Abul Kalam Azad: An Intellectual and Religious Biography

Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958)--President of the Indian National Congress from 1939 to 1946, outspoken opponent of Jinnah a

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Abul Kalam Azad: An Intellectual and Religious Biography

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ABUL KALAM AZAD An Intellectual and Religious Biography

For Jeanne

Abul Kalam Azad at the age of sixteen, in 1904.



An Intellectual and Religious Biography






and associates in BERLIN IBADAN

© Oxford University Press 1988 SBN 19 562205 7

Phototypeset in Garamond by Spantech Publishers Pvt Ltd 708 Pragati Tower, 26 Rajendra Place, New Delhi 110 008 ·Printed by Rekha Printers, New Delhi 110 020 and published by S.K. Mookerjee, Oxford University Press Y.M.C.A. Library Building,JaiSingh Road, Nlw Delhi 110 001 I I

Contents Editors' Foreword Author's Acknowledgements Abbreviations INTRODUCTION I PREPARATORY YEARS (1888-1910) The Ancestral Background Early Islamic Training A Wider World Intoxication with Sir Sayyid The Loss of Faith For111ation of his Political Thought Recovery of Faith II AL-HILAL AND J(HILAFAT: RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM (1910-1922) The Mission of al-Hila/ The Hizbullah The Message of al-Hila/ Continuation of the al-Hila/ Period·: Tazkira The Khilafat Movement: 1920-2

Appendix to Chapter I I: Letter from Azad to Sayyid Sulaiman N adwi dated February 1914

• ••

Vlll X ••


1 27

30 37 44 51 63 77 87


103 114 127 162




Abu/ Kalam Azad

III TAR]VMAN AND FREEDOM'S DAWN: RELIGIOUS SCHOLARSHIP AND NATIONALIST POLITICS (1923-1958) The Emergence of Az~d's Quranic Commentary · The Tarjuman al-Quran An Assessment of Azad's Tarjuman Nationalist Politics Ghubar-e-Khatir The Dawn of Freedom Minister of Education IV AZAD: THE MAN AND HIS MEANING

Postlude Editors' Conclusions Glossary Bibliography Biographical Note on the Author Index

189 196 203 213 222 226 234 238 253 281 282 306 315 340 343

Plates Frontispiece: Abul Kalam Azad at the age of sixteen, in 1904. (between pp. 164 and 165) A session of the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, April 1912. The front page of al-#ilal, 4 June 1913. Azad as he appeared in the first edition of Tazkirah, 1919~ . A page from Azad;s manuscript of Tarjuman al-Quran, published in 1930. A sketch of Azad by Amina Ahmad, 14 June 1945.

Contents Lord Wavell with Maulana Azad, Simla Conference, June-July 1945. Azad relaxing during the Simla Conferenc~, June-July . 1945. . Azad with Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 1946. Azad with Nehru and Sarojini Naidu, December 1948. Nehru with A~ad, 16 May 1949. Azad at the grave of Jinnah,July 1951. Azad as Education Minister. Nehru gazing at the body of Azad, 22 February 1958. Azad's mausoleum.



Editors' Foreword · Ian Henderson Douglas submitted his doctoral thesis, 'The Life and Religious Thought of Abul Kalam Azad', to Oxford University in 1969. He died suddenly in 1975, without having had the opportunity to revise the thesis for publication. That task has fallen to us through a conjunction of circumstances. Minault had originally met Douglas in the late 1960s when both were doing doctoral research. Troll was also acquainted with Douglas's work. In 1983, the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies, with which Douglas had been associated during his years in India, organized the Ian Douglas Memorial Lectures in co-operation with the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies, New Delhi, and invited the distinguished scholar, Kenneth Cragg, to deli,,.er lectures in New Delhi and Hyderabad. The future editors, Troll in Delhi and Minault, then in Hyderabad, attended the lectures. On that occasion, in conversation with Dr Sam Bhajjan, Director of the Henry Martyn Institute, Minault discovered that a copy of Douglas's thesis was available in the Ir1stitute's library. Minault subsequently read the thesis, felt that it should be published in some for111, and, upon the urging of Bhajjan and others, wrote to Douglas's widow,Jeanne, for permission to edit the work for publication. We agreed to edit the thesis jointly, since Azad's intellectual contribution to modem Indian history was both religious and political, the former a subject of Troll's expertise and the latter a subject that Minault has studied, especially in her work on the Khilafat movement. Our procedure was as follows: We have completely rewritten the introduction to the original thesis, placing Azad in his intellectual and political context, and taking into account much recent scholarship on Indian Muslims which has appeared since Douglas did his work. We have also written



Editors' Foreword


new conclusions assessing Azad's life and contributions. The body of Douglas's thesis, consisting of chapters I-Iv and the postlude, has been edited making stylistic changes, checking the translation of quotes from primary sources, eliminating quotes from secondary works, consolidating the notes, and expanding the bibliography. In so doing, we have kept Douglas's argument intact. On occasional points, where we differ with Douglas or feel that later scholarship has modified the record significantly, we signal the varying interpretation in a clearly marked footnote. The resultant biography of Azad thus features Douglas's thesis while adding new materjal whe_re appropriate. We include Douglas's acknowledgements from the original thesis, but we of course have a number of individuals and organizations that we would like to thank. Editing a manuscript jointly is no easy task, especially when doing it from such widely separated places as Delhi and Austin, Texas. The University of Texas Research Institute and the American Institute of Indian· Studies at various times have provided research support to · Minault. Troll was able to spend some time in the United States in 1985, thanks to the Woodstock Theological Center of Georgetown University. We have thus been able to consult personally from time to time as the editorial work progressed. In Delhi, the libraries of the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (Azad Bhawan), and the Vidyajyoti Institute of Religious Studies have been valuable. In particular, Khwaja Munir Ahmad and Guizar Ahmad Naqvi of the Azad Bhawan Library, have been most generous with their time. In A us tin, S. Asaad Ayub Ahmad provided invaluable research assistance. A. G. Noorani of Bombay provided much encouragement from the outset of the project. Malik Ram of Delhi has been generous with his time in granting several interviews. Kenneth Cragg and Albert Hourani, both associated with Douglas's research, also encouraged us in this work. Finally, we are both very grateful to Jeanne Douglas for her friendship and gracious co-operation, and we hope that the end result is worthy of her trust and is, as well, a fitting memorial to Ian Douglas himself.

Author's Acknowledgements This•work work is the result of living an·d working among Muslim~ in India and Pakistan over a period of more than twenty-five years. I would like to pay tribute, first of all, to Dr Harold Spencer who, as Principal of the Henry Martyn School of Islamic Studies, was my first teacher of Islamics and. responsible for the beginning of my interest. To Dr Kenneth Cragg, whose thought and example have had a profound influence on my attitudes with regard to Christian-Muslim relations, I owe specifically the suggestion that my studies of contemporary Islam in India be personalized in the life of Abul KalamAzad. .· · During the years of my formal research on Azad, I have been greatly helped by my colleagues on the staff of the Henry Martyn Institute: Dr Samuel Bhajjan, who constantly encourageq and helped me in all matters concerning the Urdu language, Dr Ghiasuddin Adelphi, who was always ready to aid me with his expert knowledge of Arabic and Islam, and the Rev. Amirullah Alvi, who was my guide and interpreter in the unrelenting journey through the pages of Al-Hila/ and Al-Balagh. Every research scholar concerned with the writings of Abul Kalam Azad must be greatly indebted to the labours of Syed Abdul Latif, for his translation into English of the Tarjuman al-Quran; and to both Ajmal Khan and Malik Ram for their work in editing and annotating the Sahitya Akademi editions of Azad's works. I am deeply grateful, in addition, for the help of many Muslim friends in India who have talked gladly and freely and have given invaluable assistance in checking my own judgements as they·were being fo1111ulated. They ·are too numerous to mention individually but the one whose comments I found perhaps the .

Author's Acknowledgements


most helpful of all my serve as a symbol of the many. The r.eligious sensitivity, sound scholarship; and personal interest in the writings Azad.which meet in the person of Professor Khaliq Ahmad Nizami m~rk him as uniquely qualified, in my judgement, to give the academic world a full study of Azad, and it is r~grettable that his educational duties have thus far prevented this. Finally, in India, I want to acknowledge with thankfulness my debt to Sayyid Ausaf Ali, Secretary of the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies, who has given more time than anyone to discussion with me, has made library facilities available, and has .d irected me to many helpful consultants. In Oxford, it was an honour and a pleasure that my first studies were under the direction of the late Alfred Guillaume. Last but not least, I wish to express my appreciation for all the cooperation and help of my supervisor, Albert H. Hourani. This is no mere formal acknowledgement. I have valued very much has conscientious attention, his perceptive judgments, and his positive counsels.


IHD 1969



Economic and Political Weekly (Bombay) Azad, Ghubar-e-Khatir / slamic Culture (Hyderabad, India) Azad, India Wins Freedom ,.. Journal ofthe American Oriental Society Journal ofAsian Studies Journal ofthe Asiatic Society ofBe·ngal Journal ofthe Royal Asiatic Society Azad, as dictated to Abdur Razzaq Malihabadi, Azad ki Kahani Khud Azad ki Zabani Modern Asian Studies Azad, Mazamin-e-Lisan al-Sidq, ed. by Abdul Qawi Dasnawi Muslim World National Archives of India, New Delhi Studia I slamica Nicholas Mansergh et al., eds., The Transfer ofPower, 1942-47 Azad, Tarjuman al-Qur'an (English translation by Syed Abdul Latif) Azad, Tarjuman al-Qur'an (Sahitya Akademi edition) Abdur Razzaq Malihabadi, Zikr-e-Azad


Introduction 1 In the old city of Delhi, between the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort, both monuments to the glories of Mughal rule, a grassy space covers an area where once stood the houses of the Muslim nobility. They were levelled after the Indian revolt against the British in 1857. Now the space is filling up again with shops, many owned by refugees from another cataclysmic event in Indian history, the panition of the subcontinent in 1947. Near the mosque, and above the level of the crowded new bazaar, a stone wall encloses a garden in which a tomb of simple dignity marks the resting place of a man born in Mecca in 1888, who died in New Delhi in 1958, Mohiuddin Ahmad, better known as Abul Kalam Azad. The location is appropriate, a grave amidst the relics of past history, in a domain wrested by the British from the Mughals, and then freed again at great cost. The other leading figures of the freedom struggle, Gandhi and Nehru, were cremated not far a~ay, along the banks of the river J amt1na, beyond the battlements of the Red Fort. But Azad, in death as in life, is alone. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is, by any reckoning, a major figure in twentieth-century Indian history. He was a scholar thoroughly trained in the traditio11al Islamic sciences, with great intellectual abilities and eloquence of pen and speech. He had, in addition, a remarkable openness to modern western knowledge even as he opposed western rule over India. He made a lasting contribution to Urdu prose literature with his translation and interpretation of the Quran, his many other 1 This

introduction is an editorial addition. It adheres, in large measure, to the.outline of Douglas's introduction to his original thesis. So much scholarship has been published in recent years on the intellectual and political history of Muslims in India that was unavailable to Douglas when he did his research, that we felt it necessary to rewrite the intro,iuction in the light of that scl1olarship.

Abu/ Ka/am Azad


religious writings, and his introspective autobiographical and epistolary works. He was a skilful journalist and ideologue who played a leading role in the Indian struggle for independence and then in the government of the Indian republic, remaining a symbol of the Muslim will to coexist with men of other religions .in modern India. Azad was a complex and often contradictory figure, the product of a long line of Muslim divines who had served the Mughals ~d then, in the generation preceding Azad's birth, migrated to Mecca. His mother was an Arab woman who did not long surviye the family's return to India in the mid 1890s, when they settled in Calcutta. His father, Khairuddin Dihlawi, was a sufi pir of the Qadiri and Naqshbandi orders whose disciples included a number of wealthy merchants of the Surati Nakhudar community in Calcutta, Bombay, and elsewhere.2 These benefactors pet suaded K.hairuddin to return to Calcutta from the Hejaz, and then to remain there with his family following his wife's death. Azad was educated at home by his fat.h er in a strictly traditional manner, but later rebelled against his father's stem discipline. He liked to think of his pen name 'Azad' (free) as indicating his break from the religious tradition of his family, although he too aspired to religious leadership of a different, and · vaster, order. . Before examining Azad's life in detail, however, it is necessary to trace his intellectual antecedents in order to deter 111ine the degree of his freedom from tradition, as well as his original contribution to that tradition.

The intellectual history of Islam in India has long been described in terms of two contrasting currents: the one tending towards confrontation, the other towards assimilation, with the Hindu milieu. 3 This dichotomy is, of course, an oversimplification, History sheet on Azad, Home (Political) 45, 1921, National Archives of India (NAI); pir:·a religious guide, a sufi; nakhuda: a ship's captain; also a community of Gujarati Muslims originating in Surat who were active in the Indian Ocean trade, especially that between western India and the Red Sea. 3 See, e.g. Aziz Ahmad, Studies in lslamic Culture in the Indian Environment 2

I ntroduaion


for separatist and syncretist represent extreme p~ints on a spectrum of possible intellectual responses by Muslims to the Indian scene. Muslim intellectuals are more likely to represent various shades on that spectrum, combining ideas that are more or less clas_sical, orthodox, or otherwise identified with the great scriptural tradition of Islam, and ideas that are more or less influenced by the .Indian milieu, including monism, mysticism, and a host of folk beliefs and rituals. Throughout Indo-Muslim history,. the ulama, or theologians of Isl~, have been .more closely identified with scriptural orthodoxy, as they taught the classical texts of the Islamic learned tradition and held offices in the Muslim courts charged with administering the shari'a, or Islamic law, and monitoring the morals of the Muslim believers. 4 The sufis, or mystics, on the other hand, were more closely associated with syncretic trends, as they were abroad among the people, proselytizing and ministering to their spiritual needs. Sufi lineages and their tombs then attracted the kind of ritµal and devotional practices often associated with popular Hindu deities and shrines. But this division of religious personnel into two exclusive categories is, again, an oversimplification. Through the ages many sufis, for all their popular and devotional traditions, were also landed magnates who served Muslim kings and the advanc~ment of an Islamic social order in a variety of ways. 5 Many ulama have also been sufis, combining the teaching of the law (shari'a) with giving guidance in the mystical path (tariqa). 6 · In Islamic history generally, the most innovative thinkers, (London: Oxford University Press, 1964); S.M. Ikram, Muslim Civili.zation in India, ed. by Ainslie Embree ~ew York: Columbia University Pres~., 1964): 4 Shari'a: the path to be followed; the whole body of rules guiding the life of a Musiim in law and ethics; the divine law; alim: a learned man; a Muslim theologian and legal scholar; pJ.: ulama. s Richard Eaton, Sufis of Bijapur: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India· (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978); Idem. 'The Political and Religious Authority of the Shrine of Baba Farid', in Barbara Metcalf, ed.,

Moral· Conduct and A_uthority: The Place of Adah in South Asian Islam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 333-56. 6 For a concise statement of this, see Barbara Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband. 1860-1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press,


Abul Kalam Azad

from the time of al-Ghazali (1058-1111) onwards, have also frequently been mystics. Ghazali was an alim whose profound mystical experiences helped gain acceptance for sufism within the bounds-of Islamic orthodoxy. 7 Similarly, Muslim reformers in India, particularly from the seventeenth century onwards, combined Islamic learning with sufi practice to return sufism closer to the message of revealed Islam. The impetus for this wave of refo1111ing activity in Indian Islam came from several currents in the late sixteenth century. First, the arrival of the millennium of the Islamic era fed popular expectations of a mahdi (messianic figure) or, at the very least, a mujaddid (renewer, reforrner) who would revive the faith and lead the believers in line with God's message. A Mahdist movement had arisen around the figure of Sayyid Muhammad Jaunpuri (1443-1504), who had a number of influential disciples during the reign of Akbar (r. 1556-1605). The controversy between Mahdists and ulan1a at the court caused one of many divisions in the ruling elite. 8 Secondly, Akbar himself, for political reasons, challenged the power of the ulama to interpret Islamic law and encouraged open religious discussion at court. The ulama were uneasy about these developments and sought to strengthen the orthodox intellectual and political position in a variety of ways. 9 Thirdly, the arrival of Europeans in the Indian 1982), pp. 16-23; tariqa: the mystical way or path followed by any one of the

sufi orders or brotherhoods. 7 On al-Ghazali, see W. Montgomery Watt, Muslim lntellec.tual: A Study ofal-Ghazali (Edinburgh: The University Press, 1963); and his translation of al-Ghazali's works, 'Deliverance from Error' (Al-Munqidh min al-Dalal) and 'The Beginning of Guidance' (Bidaya al-Hidaya) in The Faith and Practice of al-Ghazali (London: Allen and Unwin, 1953). 8 There were also doctrinal divisions between Sunnis and Shias and ethnic divisions between Turks (Turani) and Persians (Irani); mahdi: the 'rightlyguided one' who will appear at the end of time to establish Islam. On the Mahdist movement, see M. Qamaruddin, The Mahdawi Movement in India (Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delhi, 1985). 9 For a discussion of Akbar's political and religious policies, see Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Culture, pp. 167-81; and Gail Minault, 'Akbar and AurangzebSyncretism and Separatism in Mughal India: a Re-examination,' MW, 59, 2 ( April 1969): 106-26.



Ocean during the course of the century, and the consequent expansion of ocean-going trade, meant that more I~dian Muslims were going on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and a growing number of Indian ulama went to the holy city to study the scriptural sciences, Quranic exegesis (tafsir) and the prophetic trad.itions (hadith ), at the source. 1 Finally, in the late sixteenth century, members of the Naqshbandi order of sufis arrived in India from Central Asia. The N aqshbandi order, unlike many Indian sufis-particularly those of the Chishti order-had a tradition of association with princes in the interests of influencing their policies in an Islamic direction. Further, the Naqshbandis had a mystical tradition which was much closer to orthodox Islam than that of other orders. The reasons for this are complex, but part of the contrast is related to the influence of Ibn Arabi (1164-1240) on Indian sufi thought. The Andalusia11 mystic had formulated a doctrine of ontological monism (wahdat al-wujud), in which he said that only God exists and all else is non-existent. Such monism, while independently derived, is very close in spirit to Advaita Vedanta philosophy in Hinduism. 11 For sufis, such a doctrine makes the mystical experience of union with God infinitely possible. But such a doctrine also challenges the transcendence of God, which is the basic tenet of Islamic belief. The Naqshbandi order, through its chief Indian disciple Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564 1624), challenged the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud. 12 Another Indian Naqshbandi, Abdul Haq 'Muhad-


Hajj: the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, required of every Muslim at least once in bis life if possible; tafsir: the science of Quranic exegesis; haditl,: the •


sayings of the Prophet Muhammad based on the authority of a chain of transmitters; the science of prophetic tradition. 11 Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Culture, p. 187; for general studies of sufism, see Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (London: Oxford University Press, 1971); Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: UNC, 1975); on the Chishtis in India, see K. A. Nizami, Tarikh-e-Masha' ikh-e-Chisht (Reprint. Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli, 1980); Idem., 'Early Indo-Muslim Mystics and Their Attitude Towards the State', IC, 22, 4 (Oct. 1948)-24, 1 Qan. 1950). ti On Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, see Yohanon Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmad

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dith' Dihlawi, went to Mecca to study, and on his return, established the reputation of Delhi as a centre of hadith studies. 13 Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi was the first representative figure cited by Azad as one of his intellectual forebears. l'4 Shaikh Ahmad brought together several of the reforming trends of the sixteenth century. As a young man·, he h~d frequented Akbar's court and had debated points of doctrine with the Mahdists. He then became a disciple of Khwaja Baqibillah, the Central Asian N aqshbandi who had established his khanqah (hospice) in Delhi. Thereafter, Shaikh Ahmad began to write a series of letters (maktubat) addressed to nobles of the court, in which he sought to influence the policies of the state towards a stricter enforcement of Islamic law. lie also made claims about his own leadership that led his disciples to declare that he was the mujaddid-e-alf-e-thani (reformer [of Islam] in the second millennium). These claims aroused opposition to him at the court; he was summoned before the emperor Jahangir and ultimately imprisoned, apparently for his arrogance, but also probably because of the anti-Shia tone of some of his writings, which may have offended the Shia nobility allied to the empress, Nur Jahan. This indicates that Shaikh Ahmad's political influence at the time was probably minimal, claims of his disciples and later accounts (including Azad's) to the contrary notwithstanding.1 5 Nevertheless, his influence on sufi thought was profound. Sirhindi c~allenged the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud (unity of being or ontological monism) by positing an alternative, wahdat al-shuhud (unity of all being as witnessed, hence unity in appearance or phenomenological monism). That is, as opposed to a doctrine wherein only God exists (a doctrine of monism), he reaffirmed God's transcendence by explaining that the •

Sirhindi (Montreal; McGill-Queen's University Press, 1971); Burhan Ahmad Faruqi, The Mujaddid's Conception of Tawhid (Lahore: Ashraf, 1940); Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Culture, pp. 182-90. . . . 13 Ibid., p. 190; Barbara Metcalf, Islamic Revival, p. 19; Muhaddith: one



who is learned in hadith. 14 In Tazkira (Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1968), pp. 263-4. 1YFriedmann, Shaykh Ahmad, pp. 1-11, 87-111; Irfan Habib, 'The Political Role of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah', Enquiry, 5 (1961): 36-55.



mystical experience of the sufi only makes it appear as if union with God has been attained. Recognition that the mystical experience is only an appearance of union, not existential oneness with God, is a higher stage of mystical attainment for Sirhindi, as it reaffirms the absolute transcendence of God, and by extension, the necessity of the prophetic revelation for man to know and execute God's will. 16 The r~forming trends initiated by the mujaddid and the contemporary hadith scholar Abdul 1-laq Dihlawi were continued in the next century in the work of Shah Waliullah (1703--62), the great Delhi reformer of the period of Mughal decline. He was the son of an alim and mystic, Shaikh Abdur Rahim Dihlawi (1644-1718), who had served Aurangzeb (r. 1659-1707) in the compilation of the collection of Islamic laws, the Fatawa-eAlamgiri, and then withdrawn from the court to devote his life to teaching. Shah W aliullah was trained by his father and initiated into several sufi orders, including the Naqshbandi Mujaddidi. 17 He then went to Mecca to study the Islamic sciences, especially hadith, and returned to Delhi to a life of scholarship and teaching. 18 . Shah Waliullah's writings cover a vast array of intellectual and religious subjects that are not easy to summarize. Like Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, he wrote letters to Muslim nobles and princes in an effort to stem the rot in the Mughal state and to recall the rulers to the principles of Islamic law. 1? Shah W aliullah 16

Friedmann, Shaikh Ahmad, pp. 59 68; Faruqi The Mujaddid's Conception ofTawhid. 17 The branch of the Ntqshbandi order that followed in line of succession from the mujaddid, Shaikh ..l\.hmad Sirhindi. Waliullah was also initiated into the Qadiri and Chishti orders. J.M. S. Baljon, Religion and Thought ofShah WaliAllah Dihlawi (1703-1762) (Leiden: Brill, 1986), p. 4. 18 On Shah Waliullah, see Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Culture, pp. 201-9; Idern., 'Political and Religious Ideas of Shah Wali-Ullah of Delhi', MW, 52, 1 0anuary 1962), 22-30; Metcalf, Islamic Revival, pp. 35-45; Baljon, Religion and Thought of Shah Wali Allah; S. A. A. Rizvi, Shah Wali-Allah and his Times (Canberra: Ma'rifat, 1980). 19

K. A Nizami, ed., Shah Wa/iu/lah Dihlawi ke Siyasi Maktubat (Delhi: Nadwatul Musannifin, t 969).

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also wrote of the need for a universal khilafat to defend Islam and to serve an ex~mplary role for other Muslim monarchs. 20 In individual Muslim states, wise rulers would re-establish stability in military and civil matters, while the ulama would provide advice in the administration of Islamic law and moral guidance for the community. Correct rule and right guidance would be established through jihad, which, in his view, was both a struggle against the enemies of the faith-the primary definition of jihad-and a higher struggle against one's baser instincts. 21 Waliullah was more concerned with internal political and moral decay than he was with the external threat from European power. The external threats that did concern him were more immediate: from Persia and from the Marathas. His response to such threats was original; he advocated greater solidarity among Muslims across sectarian lines, and regardless of legal school or sufi order. In his efforts to combat .Muslim disunity, Shah Waliullah advocated 'jurisprudential eclecticism,' 22 or choosing among different schools of fiqh for legal interpretations, as opposed to taqlid to any one school. 23 In his opposition to taqlid, Shah W aliullah opened up the possibility of ijtihad, or the reinterpretation of Islamic law in the light of original sources, especially the Quran and hadith. 24 Shah Waliullah's emphasis on know-

°Khil~fat: caliphate; line of succession to the Prophet Muhammad.


Baljon, Religion and Thought of Shah Wali Allah, pp. 185--6, 211 22 The phrase is Barbara Metcalf's in Islamic Revival, p. 38. 23 Fiqh: Islamic jurisprudence; there are four schools of Sunni fiqh: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali, as well as several schools of Shia jurisprudence (in northern and central India, Sunni Muslims are usually Hanafis, in southern India, usually Shafi'is); taqlid: to accept without question the authority of early Muslim jurists in matters of Muslim law; to follow authority without reflection. 24 0n this point see Daud Rahbar, 'Shah Waliullah and ljtihad: Translation of Selected Passsages from h~s 'Iqd al-Jid fi Ahkam al-ljtihad 'u,ia'l Taqlid', MW, 45, 4 (October 1955): 346-58; ljtihad: individual inquiry to establish the ruling of the shari'a upon a given point. Sunnis have considered ijtihad permissible only on points not already decided by recognized authorities; on points so decided they require taqlid, or adherence to the usual view. 21



ledge of the sources had two long-term effects. The importance of Delhi as a centre of hadith studies was reaffirmed, and as for the Quran, Shah W aliullah himself translated it into Persian as a way of making it more accessible to the laity; and later his sons, Shah Rafiuddin (1749-1817) and Shah Abdul Qadir (1753-1827), translated it into Urdu. 25 Shah Waliullah also tried to effect a rapprochement among various sufi orders. He had been initiated into a number of orders himself, and in his writings he attempted to reconcile the doctrines of wahdat al-wujud of Ibn Arabi and wahdat alshuhud of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi. He argued that the wujudi position, if properly understood, confirmed the shuhudi position. In other words, the difference between the two views is basically semantic, the result of misinterpretation. This may not clear up the doctrinal conflict, but Shah Waliullah's main purpose, which was to reconcile the followers of the two schools, is nevertheless served. They are both right to a certain extent; rather like the blind men in the parable, each has only a limited understanding of the nature of the problem. Shah Waliullah also tried to reconcile Shias and Sunnis, though he was not no~iceably successful in this. 26 In combining within himself the roles of alim and sufi, in attempting to bring together princes and learned men, in reconciling different orders within sufism, and in attempting to reopen the gates of ijtihad through utilizing different schools of law, Shah Waliullah not only synthesized techniques of reform from within the Islamic tradition but also developed ideas that would be cited by successive generations of Muslim reformers down to the present. Azad's ancestors were among the disciples of Shah Waliullah's successors, and Azad acknowledged the Shah as an 25The

first made a literal translation and the second a translation into idio-

matic Urdu. Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Culture, p. 206 26 Metcalf; Islamic Revival, p. 40; Baljon, Religion and Thought of Shah Wali Allah, pp. SlH>3; Marcia Hermansen, 'Shah Wali Allah of Delhi's Hujjat Allah al-Baligha: Tension between the,Universal and the Particular in an Eighteenth-Century Islamic Theory of Religious Revelation', SI, 63 (1986): 143-57.


Abul Kalam Azad

intellectual forebear, noting how he had struggled with his writings in his youth and had only appreciated them later. 27 Shah Waliullah's descendants and their disciples perpetuated his ideas of reform into the nineteenth century in two major areas. First, in the political realm, his ideas of jihad and of Islamic solidarity in the face of external aggression were expanded to include both a recognition of the European threat and a desire to do something about it. Shah Abdul Aziz (1746-1824), Shah .Waliullah's son and leading successor, issued in 1803 a ·fatwa which acknowledged that the Christian unbelievers were in control of all of northern India. 28 If the territories of the Mughal emperor were no longer under Muslim rule (dar all slam) what were the Muslims to do abput it? Here Abdul Aziz was more ambiguous. 29 In declaring ·India the territory of the infidel (dar al-barb), he might be saying that Muslims should take up arms to resist. On the other hand, he might simply be acknowledging the changed state of affairs and urging Muslims to adapt. He did not, in fact, issue a call to jihad, although some of his most influential disciples did. 30 The movement known as the Mujahidin was headed by Sayyid Azad ki Kahani Khud Azad ki Zubani, ed. Abdur Razzaq Malihabadi (Delhi: Maktaba-e-lsha'at al-Quran, 1965), pp. 358-9. 28 fatwa: a learned opinion on a point of Islamic law, pl.: f atawa. 290n this point, see Mushir ul-Haq 'Shah Abd al-Aziz al-Dihlawi and His. Times', Hamdard Islamicus, 7, 1 (Spring 1984): 51-96; 7, 2 (Summer 1984): 77-103. He points out: 27

... we can say that Shah Abd al-Aziz saw no harm in the Muslims living under a non-Muslim government. He divided life into two parts: political ~nd religious. For the religious aspect he advised the Muslims to depend upon the Muslirri officers appointed by the non-Muslim government or selected by themselves. In other fields of life the Muslims were advised to collaborate with the non-Muslim government as long as their religious and cultural character remained intact (ibid., 7, 2: 97). JOShah Abdul Aziz, Fatawa-e-Azizi (Kanpur: n.d.),.p. 35, quoted in Metcalf, Islamic Revwal, p. 46 and discussed in ibid., pp. 49-Sl; cf. S.A.A.Rizvi, Shah Abdul Aziz: Puritanism, Sectarian Polemics, and Jihad (Canbet1a: Ma'rifat, 1982), pp. 225-37; dar al-lslam: lands under Muslim rule, or lands in which Muslim institutions are maintained; the converse is dar al-barb: the 'lands of war'.



Ahmad of Rae Bareilly (1786-183 i) and Shah Ismail (1781-1831 ), a nephew of Shah Abdul Aziz. 31 They perpetuated Waliullah's ideas against taqlid and in favour of renewed ijtihad, as well as emphasized the militant aspect of jihad. Two works summarize their teachings: Sayyid Ahmad's Sirat al-Mustaqim (The Straight Path), compiled by Shah Ismail, and lsmail's own Taqwiyat al/man (Strengthening tl{e Faith). Both these works were printed in lithographic editions and thus received wider circulation than had hitherto been possible.32 The two leaders went further than Shah Waliullah had done in advocating the refo11n of sufism, attacking the veneration shown to pirs and their tombs, the Shia veneration of ta 'zias, and a variety of other popular rituals as compromising the unity of God (tawhid). 33 In this they approximated the· puritanical, anti-sufi ideas of the militant eighteenth-century Arab refor1per Abdul Wahhab, and were thus dubbed 'Wahhabis' by their opponents, though they never denounced sufism per se, and maintained their own li11e of sufi discipleship. For this reason, Waliullahi seems a better ter111 to characterize their thought than Wahhabi. Nevertheless, sufi pirs such as Azad's father, Khairudain, were antagonized by their denunciation as polytheistic of a host of customs which · were a part of popular sufi practice. Khairuddin opposed the Waliullahis of the next generation and piqued the young Azad's interest in these 'Wahhabis'. Sayyid Ahmad and Shah Ismail went on hajj in 1822 and, when they returned to India, organized a migration of armed Sayyid Ahmad came to Delhi from Rae Bareilly ea. 1806 and studied with members of the Waliullah family; Shah Ismail was the son of Shah Abdul Ghani (1755?-1789), Shah Waliullah's youngest son; be became the disciple of his uncle and later of Sayyid Ahmad. For a complete discussion of the genealogy of Shah Waliullah's successors, and list of their disciples and works, see Rizvi, Shah Abdul Aziz, pp. 75-102; mujahidin: those who wage jihad. 32 Metcalf, Islamic Revival, pp. 56-7; English synopsis of Sirat {translated by 'J.R.C.') appears inJASB 1 (1832): 479-98; Taqwiyat al-Iman was translated into English by MirShahamat Ali (sic) inJRAS, 13 (1852): 31~71; a later edition is Support ofthe Faith translated by Mir Hashmat Ali (Lahore: Ashraf, 1969). 33 Ta'zia: effigy of the tomb of the Imam Husain, used in the Sbia processions of mourning during the month of Muharram. 31


Abul Kalam Azad

men from the plains of north India to the mountains of the north-west frontier, with networks for recruitment and supply, for purposes of fighting, first, the Sikh kingdom of the·Punjab . and, ultimately, the British. The two died in battle against the Sikhs at Balakot in 1831, and a number of their followers migrated abroad, to Afghanistan or Mecca. But the influence of their movement lived on, was a considerable worry to the British, and provided i11spiration and a pattern for clandestine, popular mobilization for religio-political causes thereafter. 34 The second area in which Shah Waliullah's ideas of reform were perpetuated 1n the nineteenth century was the intellectual realm. Shah Abdul Aziz's fatwa pointed to a new role for the Indian ulama: In the absence of Muslim political authority, their obligation to offer guidance to Muslims in matters of faith and law became more urgent than it had been in his father's time. The means of disseminating this guidance had to take new fot 111s: The ulama began to use the printing press to issue their f atawa and other didactic texts, and to debate with opponents, whether Christian missionaries or members of other Muslim sects. The ulama thus became one of the chief forees behind the development of Urdu p1ose in the nineteenth century. Secondly, ulama-sufis, whether of the W aliullahi persuasion or not, began to organize schools for the forrnation of a new generation of religious leaders. For 1nerly, the Islamic sciences had been taught by father to son or by teacher to disciple in a fairly unstructured fashion. ·A madrasa or theological school was simply the house On the Mujahidin, see Metcalf, Islamic Revival, pp. 52-63; Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Culture, pp. 209-17; Rizvi, Shah Abdul Aziz, pp. 471-541; Qeyamuddin Ahmad, The Wahhabi Movement in India (Calcutta: K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1966); Muhammad Hedayatullah, Sayyid Ahmad: A Study of the Religious Reform Movement of Sayyid Ahmad of Rae Bareilly (Lahore: Ashraf, 1970); Mohiuddin Ahmad, Sayyid Ahmad Shahid: His Life and Mission (Lucknov,: Academy of Islamic Research and-Publications, 1975); and W.W. Hunter's classic denunciation of the 'Wahhabis', The Indian 34

Musalmans: Are They Bound in Conscience to Rebel against the Queen? (London: Trubner, 1871; reprint, Delhi and Varanasi: Indological Book House, 1969); in Urdu, see esp. Ghulam Rasul Mihr's three volumes: Sayyid Ahmad Shahid, Jama'at-e-Mujahidin, and Sarguzasht-e-Mujahidin (Lahore: K.itab Manzil, 1952, 1955, 1957).



of the teacher or the precincts of a mosque where the reading and reciting of texts took place. In British India, with schools, colleges, and universities being organized by the colonial authorities, the learned men of Islam also developed institutional centres. 35 Chief of these was the madrasa at Deoband, a small town in Saharanpur district, north of Delhi, that had been the homeland of a number of Waliullahis. The founders of the Deoband madrasa were Maulanas Muhammad Qasim Nanotawi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, who had studied in Delhi with the successors of Shah Abdul Aziz, were especially knovln for their hadith studies; and like many Waliullahis sympathized with the 1857 revolt. When the rebellion was crushed-thereby eliminating the practical possibility of armed jihad-the ulama embarked· upon other, intellecutal forms of struggle for the faith. They founded the Deobai1d madrasa in 1867 to perpetuate the learned tradition of Shah Waliullah: study of·the Quran, hadith, and fiqh; though unlike some Waliullahis the Deobandis were firm ir1 their taqlid to one school of fiqh, the Hanafi. The Deobandis were ulama but also sufis, initiated into a number of orders. They published their fatawa in response to queries from Muslims all over India; they opposed un-Islamic customs, and generally tried to raise the quality of Islamic learning and religious practice among Muslims. Their school also had characteristics of a modem institution of learning: They raised funds and built buildings for residential and teaching purposes. They had a permanent library, a curriculum organized by departments, and they gave examinations and awarded degrees. The Deoband madrasa, in its attitude towards the British government, remained strictly apolitical. The ulama relied on their own networks of fund-raising, and thus remained independent of government Outside South Asia, there were institutions of Islamic learning of a more structured character, with bodies of teachers, often patronized by the state (e.g. the Nizamiya in Baghdad, al-Azhar in Cairo, etc.). And in south India, former Muslim rulers had also patronized such institutions (e.g. the madrasa of Mahmud Gawan in Bidar). A recent study is: George Makdisi, The l?.ise of Colleges: Institutions ofLearning in Islam and the West (Edinburgh: University Press, 1981 ). 35


Abul Kalam Azad

patronage, but many of their patrons had connections to government service. 36 This.tren~ towards institutionalization was also followed by a traditional group of ulama-sufis, the family of Firangi Mahal in Lucknow, which had originated in the eighteenth century the dars-e-Nizami, or the standard Islamic curriculum taught in India~ In the early twentieth century, Maulana Abdul Bari of Firangi Mahal started a madrasa that was rui alternative to the . intellectual and religious influence of Deoband. The ulama of both these madrasas, and those from other institutions of Islamic ~eami~g, later became politically involved in nationalis~ during and after World War I. In this, they parallelled and sometimes rivalled Azad. 37 Another movement of religious and intellectual refor111 that can be traced back to the influence of Shah Waliullah is the Aligarh movement led by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898). His family was also from Delhi, had served the Mughal court, and were disciples of the Naqshb~di Mujaddidi line of scholarsufis. 38 He himself had studied in Delhi with Maulana Mamluk Ali N anotawi, a disciple of the Waliullah family who was also an older relation of Muhammad Qasim Nanotawi, later a founder of Deoband. Sayyid Ahmad Khan was thus influenced by a living sufi tradition, by the writings of Shah W aliullah, and by the Mujahidin as well. He late"r described himself as a 'Wahhabi,' and, although this is perhaps stretching a point, Sayyid Ahmad Khan's early theological writings do stress the need to c~eanse Muslim practice of un-Islamic customs, and to 36 On

Deoband, see Barbara Metcalf's excellent study, Islamic Revival, esp. pp. 75-234; an earlier work is Ziya-ul-Hasan Faruqi, -The Deoband School and the Demand for Pa~istan (Bombay: Asia. 1973). 37 On Firangi Mahal, see Francis Robinson, 'The 'Ulama of Firangi Mahall and their Adah', in Metcalf, ed. Moral Conduct and Authority, pp. 152-83; on the later politics of these institutions, see Gail Minault, The Khilafat Movement (New York: Columbia University Press and Delhi: Oxford University Press), pp 25-38. ,' · 38 For a recent study of this order, see Warren Fusfeld, 'The Shaping of Sufi Leadership in Delhi: The Naqshbandiyya Mujaddidiyya, 1750 to' 1920' (unpub. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1981). 1



recall Muslims to the early, pure Islam of the Prophet. 39 Like other members of the Muslim service gentry, Sayyid Ahmad Khan was forced by circumstances and the need for livelihood to come to terms with British rule. 40 He found employment with the East India Company as a judicial officer, and at the time of the 1857 revolt was posted in Bijnor, where he sheltered British officers from the rebels. His family in Delhi suffered in the revolt an~ lost property in its destructive after1nath. Thereafter, his political life was devoted to effecting a rapprochement between British and Muslims, in order to avoid any such conflagration in the future. Sayyid Ahmad Khan was knighted by the British and served on the Viceroy's Council. He opposed all political activity that might be construed as anti-British, including the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885. While his policy was perhaps sensible in the high noon of empire, it has given him a bad press with later generations of nationalists. 41 . 39

For Sayyid Ahmad Khan's background and early writings, see Christian W. Troll, Sayyid Ahmad Khan: A Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology (New Delhi: Vikas, 1978), pp. 28-57; Bruce Lawrence, 'Mystical and Ration.al Elements in the early Religious Writings of Sri Sayyid Ahmad Khan', in Bruce Lawrence, ed., The Rose and the Rock: Mystical and Rational Elements in the Intellectual History of South Asian Islam (Durham, NC: Duke University Program in Comparative Studies in Southern Asia, No. 15, 1979), pp. 61-103; see also below eh. 1, n. 112. · 40 For this group, see C. A. Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 110-62 passim, 189-93. 41 On Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh movement, see David Lelyveld, Aligarh's First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978); S. K; Bhatnagar, A History of the M.A.O. College Aligarh (Bombay: Asia; '1969); Peter Hardy, The Mu1lims of British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), pp.92-115; Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857-1964 (I.ondon: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 31-56; S.M.Ikr~m, Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan (Lahore: Ashraf, 1970), pp. 13-58; Troll, Sayyid Ahmad Khan (Reprint.. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1974; first pub. 1885); Altaf Husain H~i, Hayat-e-]awed (Reprint, Lahore: Aina-eAdab, 1966), translated into Eng_lish by K. H. Qadiri and David Mathews (Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli, 1979); J.M. S. Baljon, The Refor.ms and


Abul Kalam Azad

Sir Sayyid's loyalist politics became outmoded in the early twentieth century, but his intellectual contribution to the futu_re of Indian Muslims was considerably longer-lasting. In 1869-70 he journeyed to England, accompanying his son who was bound for Cambridge University. Sir Sayyid there did research towards his biography of the Prophet and studied the English ·e ducational system, which greatly impressed him. Following his return, he founded in 1875 the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, dedicated to bringing western-style education together , with a knowledge of Islam to future generations of Muslim leaders. The college actively sought and obtained British government patronage, and had an English principal and several Englishmen on the staff. Aligarh became the centre of an entire movement of Muslim reform mixed with westernization that comprised not only the college, but also the Scientific Society (f. 1864) to tra11slate English texts into Urdu, the Muhammadan Educational Conference (f. 1886) to promote Muslim education and solidarity, and a printing press that published the Aligarh Institute Gazette, Tahzib al-:Akhlaq (Sir Sayyid's social reform journal), and Sir Sayyid's many writings and speeches. From his prolific pen came a life of the Prophet Muhammad, a fragmentary commentary on the Bible (Tabyin al-Kalam ), a partial commentary on the Quran (Tafsir al-Qur'an), lectures on Islam, articles (niaqalat) on innumerable topics, letters, travel accounts, and so on. Sri Sayyid contributed mightily to the development of Urdu prose literature, and his straightforward style set a new standard of expression, as distinct from the flowery style of the late Mughal period. 42 Sir Sayyid's educational work at Aligarh had lasting importance for the secular life of the Muslim community. His religious Religious Ideas of Sir Saiyid Ahmad Khan (3rd edn. Lahore: Ashraf, 1964 ); B. A. Dar, Religious Thought of Sayyid Ahmad Khan (2nd edn. Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture, 1971 ). ~1 For a short bibliography of Sir Sayyid's works, see Troll, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, pp. 364-6; Sir Sayyid's maqalat comprise 1.6 vols. in uniform edition, which, however, contain more than just his articles. Maqalat-e-Sir Sayyid, ed. by M. Ismail Panipati (Lahore: Majlis-e-Taraqqi-e-Adab, 1962-5).





writings, however, met considerable oppo~ition, and as a concession to conservative opinion in the community he had to agree that his own religious ideas would not be taught in the theology classes at Aligarh College. 43 His later religious writings, ironically enough, had a profound effect upon the mind of one who was not an Aligarh student, the young Abul Kalam Azad. Sir Sayyid's rationalism and his attempts to reconcile revelat~on and reason, Islam and science, will be discussed in the context of Azad's youthful enthusiasms and mental struggles. Azad ultimately rejected his early devotion to Sir Sayyid, but he continued in his intellectual and literary life albeit on distinctly different lines-the work of modern Quranic commentary and of comparative religious studies that Sir Sayyid had begun. 44 The last in the line of Azad's Indian i11tellecutal antecedents, Shibli Numani (1857-1914), was the first to have personal contact with Azad. He was also an exception to the rule in that he was not in the line of Delhi ulama-sufis of the Naqshbandi order, although his thought was influenced by Shah W aliullah. 45 He was, however; an alim concerned with the refor111 of the ulama so that they could be effective guides to the Muslim community, a scholar who wrote and published prolifically and who nurtured yonger authors, a leader in the movement to advance the Urdu language as a modern vehicle of expression, and an educator associated with Aligarh College and with the reformist madrasa of the Nadwat ul-Ulama in Lucknow. Shibli was a Muslim Rajput from Azamgarh district in the eastern reaches of the then United Provinces. Although his younger brothers went to Aligarh, Shibli was given a classical Islamic education. His teacher was Maulana Muhammad Farug Chiryakoti, a rationalist scholar who was an outspoken opponent of Sir Sayyid. This aspect of Shibli's background perhaps explains his ambivalent relationship with Aligarh and Sir Sayyid. The Lelyveld, Aligarh 's First Generation, pp. 130-4. 44 Seej.M.S. Baljon, Modern Muslim Knran Interpretation (Leiden: Brill, 1961). . 4 s Mehr Afroz Murad, Intellectual Modernism ofShibli Nu'mani (Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture, 1976), pp.•32-4. 43

Abul Kalam Azad


Chiryakot connection is significant. Lelyveld notes that Chiryakot was the centre of 'a uniquely rationalist and eclectic school of ulama,' who studied Mu'tazilite theology, the early Arab development of Greek science _a nd philosophy, as well as such languages as Sanskrit and Hebrew. 46 Maulana Muhammad Faruq may have opposed Sir Sayyid, but his older brother, Maulana Inayat Rasul Chiryakoti, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Aligarh movement, had helped recruit some of the first students for the college, and was an important influence in Sayyid Ahmad Khan's intellectual liberalization. 47 Shibli, therefore, had reasons to be both attracted and repelled by Aligarh. He was quite rightly proud of his education, but had trouble finding a livelihood. His brothers were more 'successful' than he, at least in the economic sense. Even after he had secured a post as a teacher of Persian and Arabic at Aligarh, he always found the intellectual atmosphere at the college disappointing. He enjoyed the friendship and patronage of Sir Sayyid and used his library for purposes of scholarship, but eventually left Aligarh because he found it uncongenial, although he did 11ot officially resign from the college until after Sir Sayyid's death in 1898. Some of Shibli's difficulties were self-imposed. He was prickly and defensive and lacked the emotional restraint so valued by cultivated Muslims (and inculcated, for example, jn Azad's own upbringing). Some sources attribute this to his being a relatively 'low caste' Rajput; others might attribute it to the conflicting influences of his early education and family pressures. Whatever his weaknesses, however, Shibli had an original mind tl1at combined rationalism and clarity of expression with an aesthetic sensibility. These characteristics are apparent in his writing style and they doubtless attracted him to the young Azad, and vice versa. 48 the name given to a group of thinkers in the eighth century AD who were largely responsible for the early development of speculative dogmatics in Islam and who discussed Islamic dog1nas in terms of Greek philosophical concepts. 47 Lelyveld, Aligarh 's First Generation, pp. 75, 241; S.M. Ikram, who has written extensively on Shibli, discusses Muhammad Faruq Chiryakoti in an article inal-Ma'arif (Lahore) 1969: 3-13, cited in ibid., p. 241, n. 139. . 48 On Shibli and the Nadwat ul-Ulama, see S. M. Ikram, Modern Muslim 46 Mu'tazilite:



While still employed at Aligarh in the early 1890s, Shibli travelled extensively in West Asia, visiting ed11cational institutions and libraries in Turkey, Egypt, and Syria for his own research and meeting scholars, including Shaikh Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) in Cairo and other Islamic reforiners. 49 After leaving Aligarh, Shibli worked for a time in the educational service of the Nizam's government in Hyderabad, but finding that also uncongenial he returned to north India, where he became the secretary and guiding light of the madrasa of the Nadwat ul-Ulama in Lucknow. The Nadwat ul-Ulama, founded in 1893, was an association of ulama who had various institutional affiliations. One of its moving spirits was Maulana Sayyid Muhammad Ali Mongiri, a learned Naqshbandi who continued the mission of promoting Muslim solidarity that was initiated by Shah Waliullah. The Nadwa was fo1111ed to bring about the reconciliation of eastern and western learning-of Deoband and Aligarh, as it were and to unite the ulama in the task of spreading and defending Islam. To do this, the N adwa avoided divisive issues and called upon the ulama to sink their differences and to improve communication amo11g themselves by holding annual meetings. The Nadwa was not always able to avoid divisions in its ranks or at its meetings, however, as Shibli later found out. In 1898, the Nadwa founded a madrasa, the Dar ul-Ulum, with the intention of incorporating the best of Islamic and western learning in its curriculum, in order to produce a new breed of modernized ulama. 50 Under Shibli's direction, the school earned a reputation for sound scholarship, published a journal, al-Nadwa (with which Azad was associated briefly), and collected an impressive India and the Birth of Pakistan, pp. 117-33; Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism, pp. 77-86; Metcalf, Islamic Revival, pp. 315-16, 335-47; Mehr Afroz Murad, Intellectual Modernism of Shibli Nu'mani; Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi, Hayat-eShibli (Azamgarh: Ma'arif Press 1943); S.M. Ikram, Yadgar-e-Shibli (Lahore: Idara~e-Saqafat-e-Islamia: 1971); Idem, Shibli Nama (Lucknow: Maktaba-eUrdu, n.d. ). 49 He wrote up his experiences in Safarnama-e-Rum o Misr o Sham (Delhi: Qaumi Press, n.d.; first pub. 1893). so Dar ul-Ulum: 'place of learning', for teaching the Islamic sciences; hence, a madrasa.


Abu/ Kalam Azad

library. It also secured British government patronage to build an imposing edifice by the banks of the Gomti, and to institute the teaching of English and mathematics. Ultimatel}', the N adwa gave up its notions of uniting occidental and oriental knowledge and concentrated on Islamic scholarship, and on the dissemination of biographical and historical writing in Urdu. Shibli's own writings set the pattern for the latter. His works included biographies of the caliphs Mamun and Umar, tl1e jurist Imam Abu Hanifa, al-Ghazali, the poet Rumi, and the Prophet Muhammad, and two works on theology. These works introduced into Urdu the methods of western historiography and biography, but were also defensive in that they responded to western and Christian criticisms of Islam and Muslim heroes. Shibli also wrote poetry, literary criticism, including a monumental study of Persian poetry, and numerous articles and letters. His style was clear and straightforward, with a tendency to romanticize the Islamic past in the interests of promoting Muslim pride and solidarity. In the last year of his life, 1913-14, Shibli left the Nadwa under fire from an opposing faction and retired to his home in Azamgarh, where he started an academy, the Dar ul-Musannifin, again to promote historical scholarship and publication in Urdu. 51 In his two works on theology, Jim al-Kalam and Al-Kalam, Shibli shows both similarities and differences with the rationalism of Sir Sayyid. They shared similar sources and influences, but on the question of the equation of the work of God ('scie11ce,' 51

Shibli's works in the order mentioned above, are: Al-Ma'mun (1887); AlFaruq (1898); .~irat al-Nu'man 1893); Al-Ghazali (1902); Sawanih-e-Maulana Ri,rn (1909); Sirat al-Nabi, left unfinished at his death and completed by S. Sulaiman Nadwi (1918-20); Shibli's Sirat al-Nabi has been translated into English by (a) Fazlur Rahman (Karachi: Pakistan Historical Society, 1970); and (b) M. Tayyib Bakhsh Budayuni (2 vols. Lahore: Kazi Publications, 1979; reprinted, Delhi: Idarah-i-Adabiyat-i Delhi, 1983); 'llm al-Kalam (1903); Al-Kalam (1904); Mawazana-e-Anis o Dabir (1903); Shi'r al-'Ajam, 5 vols. (1908-12); Kulliyat-e-Shibli (1925); Maqalat-e-Shibli, ed. by S. Sulaiman Nadwi, 8 vols. (1930-38); Makatib-e-Shibli, ed. by S. Sulaiman Nadwi, 2 vols. (1927-8). S. M. Ikram, Modern Muslim India, pp. 119-33; Murad, Intellectual Modernism, pp. 121-5.

.. Introduction .


or nature) and the word of God ('religion,' or revelation), Shibli parts company with Sir Sayyid. He states that science and religion have nothing to do with one another, being two entirely different realms. The one has to do with observable phenomena and the other with matters that are beyond the .grasp of observation or experiment. As such, they do not conflict, but neither can the one be used to confirm the other. This formulation by Shibli bears a striking resemblance to Azad's later articulation of his own differences with the thought of Sir Sayyid. 52 Chronologically also Shibli was in contact with Aza_d during the latter's period of doubt and rejection of Sir Sayyid. He, furthermore, had had direct centact with Shaikh Muhammad Abduh, whose thought tended in a similar, thougli not identical, direction. One point in an entire theological corpus does not prove overall influence, but Shibli's role in Azad's intellectual development merits further investigation. 53 Azad's intellectual antecedents also included figures from outside India. He was fluent in Arabic and knew Persian thoroughly; indeed, his formal education was conducted in these two languages. Most Indo-Muslim divines before the nineteenth century had written their works in Arabic or Persian, and the classic works of Islamic literature were also in these languages. Azad's readings in Arabic included not only al-Ghazali, the scholastic philosophers, Ibn Taimiya ( 1263-132.8) and other Hanbali reformers, but also the works of such nineteenth-


See. below, eh. 1, quote referred in n. 146. 53 Mehr Afroz Murad discusses Shibli's rationalist theology in Intellectual Modernism, pp. 1-56. Shibli was anti-Ash'arite, and influenced by-among others-the Mu'tazilites, the Islamic rational philosophers, al-Ghazali, and Shah Waliullah, as was Sir Sayyid. 1 heir similarities, therefore, may derive from their common sources. Their differences, however, are no less significant. Doll:glas wrote his evaluation of Shibli's influence on Azad without the benefit of Mrs Murad's work and thus missed the implications of Shibli's religious thinking for Azad. See .also below, ch.1, ed. n. 110; and C. W. Troll, 'The Fundamental Nature of Prophethood and Miracle: A Chapter from Shibli Nu'mani'sAl-Kalam', in Troll, ed.,lslam in India: Studies and Commentaries (New Delhi: Vikas, 1982), vol. 1, pp. 86-115.-


Abul Kalam Azad

century refor 111ers as Abduh, and contemporary newspapers and journals from Cairo. These influences will be discussed in detail later. One figure who had influenced Abduh and whose name was known throughout the Muslim world in the late nineteenth century was Sayyid Jamaluddin al-Afghani (1839-97). Afghani's relationship to refo1111ist circles in India has received some scholarly attention, but to characterize his influence on Indian Muslims as profound seems unwarranted. Afghani visited India several times during his career, and certainly his outspoken opposition to British imperialism derives from his Indian experiences. The influence of India on Afghani, however, seems to have been greater than Afghani's on India. To counteract western hegemony, Afghani became a prophet of pan-Islam, and, in addition, advocated solidarity between Muslims and their non-Muslim compatriots both in India and in Egypt. Afghani's writings elaborated these themes. He published a number of articles in India, in Persian, including a lengthy denunciation of Sayyid Ahmad Khan's 'materialist' religious teachings and his pro-British leanings, but these articles appeared in an obscure journal and had a limited impact. His 'Refutation of the Materialists, is better known through Abduh's paraphrase of it in Arabic. Afghani and Abduh also published a pan-Islamic journal in Arabic, al-Urwat al-Wuthqa, from Paris in the mid 1880s, but it was banned by the British from India. Afghani died in obscurity in Constantinople, a virtual prisoner of the Ottoman sultan, and only later did his pan-Islamic ideas gain currency in India. Any influence that Afghani had upon the young Azad seems to have been indirect in nature. 5-4 On Afghani and India, see Aziz Ahmad, 'Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Muslim India', SI, 13 (1960): SS-78; Islamic Culture, pp. SS-78; cf. Idem, Islamic Modernism, pp. 123-9; Idem, 'Afghani's Indian Contacts', JAOS, 89, 3 0uly-Sept. 1969): 476-504. Ahmad starts by emphasizing Afghani's influence, but discounts it by the last article. On Afghani's life and work, see Nikki R. Keddie, An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Politic4I and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal al-Din 'al-Afghani' (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968); Idem, 'Sayyidjamal al Din al-Afghani': A Political Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 19n); Anwar S4



With the exception of Afghani, this presentation of Azad's intellectual antecedents has included only those thinkers that Azad mentioned as having some connection with his own or his family's past. They represent a line of scholar-sufis concerned with the refo11n of Indo-Islamic religious life in order to revitalize Indo-Muslim secular and political life, whether in the late Mughal period or in the context of British rule. These figures, while of outstanding importance in the religious life of Muslim India, do not exhaust the variety of Indian Muslims' response to the religious and secular pressures they encountered. Indeed, many ulama opposed all refor1n, and many sufis continued popular devotional practices that had little to do with revealed religion. It is probably safe to say that a great many Indian Muslims were untouched by refo11n movemenu until very late in the nineteenth century, if then. In addition, there were other movements among Muslims that were peripheral to Azad's vision but were important in their own ways. The Barelwi ulama opposed as 'Wahhabi' even the modest refo1111s espoused by Deoband. The Faraizi movement led by Haji Shariatullah (1781-1840) among Muslim peasants in Bengal was much more Wahhabi than the Mujahidin had ever been. The Ahl-e-Hadith was a refor111ist sect that rejected taqlid more unequivocally than the later Waliullahis and relied for Islamic legal interpretation solely on the prophetic tradition, or hadith. The Ahl-e-Hadith was led by Sayyid Nazir Husain Dihlawi (d. 1902) who tangled with Azad's father Khairuddin in the Hejaz, and Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan (1832-90), who married into the Bhopal ruling house. 55 This sect had a number of influential adherents, including Muhsin ul-Mulk (1837-1907), a leading figure in the Aligarh movement. 56 Moazzam,Jama al-Din al-Afghani: A Muslim Intellectual (New Delhi: Concept, 1984). 55 See below, eh. 1, passage referred to in n. 21. 56 For a discussion of the Barelwis and the Ahl-e-Hadith, see Metcalf, JsLimic Rt'Vwal, pp. 264-314; on the Faraizis, see Muinuddin Ahmad Khan, A History of the Far'idi Movement in Bengal (Karachi: Historical Society of Pakistan, 1965).


Abul Kalam Azad

The Ahmadiya movement arose in the Punjab from the preaching of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (1839-1908), who claimed to be the promised mahdi and specialized in combating the influence of Christian missionaries. Azad visited Qadian at one juncture but was unconvinced, although one of his brothers-in-law became an Ahmadiya. 57 Also in the Punjab, the Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam .(Society for the Protection of Islam) was founded in Lahore in 1885, and founded schools for boys, then for girls, an orphanage, a journal, and also specialized in counteracting the influence of Christian missionaries. It was only one of a host of Muslim anjumans (societies) for educational, religious, and literary purposes formed during the late nineteenth century. 58 In short, Muslim response to pressures for religious and social change in the period immediately preceding Azad's career was far from monolithic. In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, political pressures upon Muslims were also growing. The Indian National Congress was ~ounded in 1885, and although Sir Sayyid opposed it and the Deobandis maintained a studied neutrality, there were always a few influential Muslim members of the Congress. The Hindi-Urdu controver~y in the United Provinces at .t he tum of the century made supporters of the Aligarh movement realize that their policy of loyalty to Britain was on shaky ground. In 1905, Lord Curzon's government partitioned Bengal, a policy that was generally welcomed by the Muslim majority in the·more rural, eastern part of the province, but which gave rise to antipartition demonstrations and the swadeshi movement in Calcutta and West Bengal. 59 57

Abid Reza Bedar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (Rampur: Institute of Oriental Studies, 1968), pp. 51-2; on the Ahmadiyas, see Mirza Bashir udDin Mahmud Ahmad, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980); and refs. in eh 1, n. 84, below. 58 The files of the Journal (risala) of the Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam are at the Research Society of Paki~tan, Lahore; for the history of another important anjuman, see S. Shahabuddin Dasnawi, 'Anjuman-e-Islam: Ek Tehrik,' Ajkal (October 1981): 15-22, 45. 59 Swadeshi: a mo~ement to promote goods made in India, especially cloth; lit.: 'own countty'. On the Hindi-Urdu controve1sy in UP, see Kerrin Ditb11er,



Then, in 1906, the Liberal Secretary of State for India, Lord Morley, announced that a new chapter of.government refo1111s was under consideration. A group of prominent Muslims called upon the new Viceroy, Lord Minto, in Simla, asking for reserved seats for Muslims in the refot 1ned Legislative Councils and for separate Muslim electorates. Later that year, the All-India Muslim League was founded in order to advance Muslim political interests. The Morley-Minto refot ms of 1909 largely met the Muslim requests. Other Muslims, however, felt that the leadership of Aligarh and the Muslim League was entirely too sycophantic towards the British government and that Muslims would do better to support the nationalist movement. This new trend in Indo-Muslim politics received a tremendous boost in 1911 with the annulment of the partition of Bengal, which made politically active Muslims feel that agitation was more effective than polite petitions. The T ripolitan and Balkan wars against the Ottoman empire in 1911-12 were regarded by many Muslims as direct European attacks upon Islam. Finally, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 ranged Britain and Turkey in opposite camps, further alienating Muslim opinion from the British. In these years, a vocal Muslim press emerged as the mouthpiece of Muslim political activism, including Muhammad Ali's Comrade and Hamdard in Delhi, Zafar Ali Khan's Zamindar in Lahore, and Abul Kalarn Azad's al-Hila/ in Calcutta. All this is a story that has frequently been told before, but Azad, s life before he launched al-Hilal in 1912 is less well known. 60 Similarly, the details of Azad's public life in his later Die Indischen Muslims and die Hindi-Urdu Kontroverse in den United Provinces (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1972); on the swadeshi moyement, Sumit Sarkar, The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal (New Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1973 ). 60 See, e.g. Francis Robinson, Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics of United Provinces' Muslims, 1860-1923 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974); Matiur Rahman, From Consultation to Confrontation: a Study of the Muslim League in British Indian Politics, 1906-1912 (London: Luzac, 1970); Syed Razi Wasti, Lord Minto and the Indian Nationalist Movement (London: Oxford University Press, 1964); Peter Hardy, The Muslims of British India, eh. 6; and Minault, Khilafat Movement, eh. 1.


Abul Kalam Azad

years are a matter of record, but his private life and his inner thoughts remain enigmatic and contradictory. Azad claimed to be free from traditional religion and to have formulated his ideas himself, independent of outside influence. To the extent that this is true of any extraordinarily original mind, it is also true of Azad. But he was also the product both of the long intellectual tradition sketched here and of the multifarious religious and political pressures of his times. This biography aims to clarify the question of Azad's early fo1111ation and some of the issues of his intellectual and religious life, or at least to open the way to a greater understanding of this complex individual.


Preparatory Years (1888-1910) •

The apparent divisions in Azad's life are usually demarcated by significant political events. There is no debating the fact that his public career began with the first issue of al-Hila/ in 1912. His primary object then was to arouse Indian Muslims to effective action in the struggle for political freedom. The year l 920 is taken as another turning point, since at that time he began his formal co-operation with the Indian National Congress and Mahatma Gandhi. 1 The attainment of Indian independence in 1947 seems to be the next dividing line. The divisions in the life of a man are often more apparent than real, however. One of the theses of this biography is that Azad's life displays a consistent development in response· to experience. Neither in his political life nor in his religious thought were there major discontinuities or changes of direction. The foundations for his experience were laid and the direction of his thought set during his preparatory years, examined in this chapter. While arguing for consistency and continuity, however, this biography discerns stages in the development of Azad's religious thought. These stages do not begin with• the standard, so-called turning points, but rather with significant periods of reflection. A personal religious crisis in l 909-10 preceded the dramatic commencement of his public career in 1912. His years of preparation ended with his recovery of religious faith and his deliberation on the nature of his fltture work. Then followed the journals, al-Hila/ (1912-14) and al-Balagh (1915-16); and his biographical work, Tazkira, written during his internment in 1916. 2 1

Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, p. 187 . .? Tazkira, ed. by Malik Ram (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1968; first pub. 1919).


Abul Kalam Azad

The period of Azad's second imprisonment, from the end of 1921 to the beginning of 1923, marks the beginning of the next stage of his life. He abandoned his ambition to become a messianic leader, at least outwardly, and devoted himself to the work of the Congress party. During the following years his commentary on the Quran, Tarjuman al-Qur'an, appeared. 3 Finally, his long imprisonment during World War II, 1942-45, was the dawn of the final period of Azad's life, when he was an important figure in the government of free lrtdia. At that time, his religious thought reveals a further enlargement. He resisted pressures to do more work on his Quranic commentary and expressed himself instead in the literary form of his letters, published as Ghubar-e-Khatir. 4 These stages will be treated in subsequent chapters. No published work on Azad to date has adequately studied the influence of his early life on his later development. Azad himself pla-yed down the influence of his early years, emphasizing instead the importance of his ancestry. 5 His 3

Tarjuman al-Qur'an, vol.1 (Lahore, 1931), vol.11 (Delhi, 1936); 2nd edn.

(1945); 3rd edn. I-Iv (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1964-70). English translation by Syed A bt thJt yL·ar in his own mind. Zikr, pp. 281 , 283. · 116 Kahani, pp. 293-5; al-HiL1l l (1): 2; BeJar cx,1111ined the files of Wtiki/ in


Abul Kalam Azad

In Calcutta, then in the throes of the swadeshi agitation against the 1905 partition of Bengal, Azad got a glimpse of the effectiveness of political activism. At the end of his life, he discussed his involvement with Hindu revolutionaries at that time. He was impressed by the revolutionaries' activities, and claimed to have joined one of their groups through the mediation of Shyam Sunder Chakravarty, an associate of Aurobindo Ghose. In general, Muslims were pleased with the partition, as the government intended them to be, and thus the Hindu activists mistrusted them. Azad, therefore, had a hard time gaining the confidence of his revolutionary associates. Eventually, however, he was able to convince them that it was a mistake to exclude Muslims from their activities, using the examples of Muslim revolutionary struggles in Egypt, Iran and Turkey. He also claimed to have been instrumental in spreading their organization beyond the province of Bengal, so that secret societies were established in Bombay and several towns in north India. . Just how successful Azad was in convincing his revolutionary friends of Muslim bona £ides is seriously open to question, however, for one of the major revolutionary groups, the At1ushilan Sarniti, specifically barred Muslims, while the other, Jugantar, had few, if any, Muslim members. Nevertheless, Azad seem·s to have had some peripheral association with the political underworld of Calcutta at this time, and later,. during the alHila_l period, for111ed his own religio-political association, the Hizbullah. 117 the Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna (complete 1899-1913 except for 1908) and says that, in form, it was like other Urdu new~papers of the period, summarizing news from English papers and giving news of the Muslim world from the pan-Islamic point of view. Bedar, Azad, P·. 82. 11 7 IWF, pp. 4-5; Zikr, p. 272; Rajat Ray, 'Revolutionaries, Pan-Islamists, and Bolsheviks: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and the Political Underworld of Calcutta, 1905-1925', in Mushirul Hasan, ed., Communal and Pan-Islamic Trends in Colonial India (2nd edn., New Delhi: Manohar, 1985), pp. 101-24. Editorial Note: Ray's anicle is a recent addition to this early chapter in Azad's life, utilizing Intelligence Branch records from Calcutta. He emphasizes the' complex, and shifting pattern of interrelationships' among different elements of the Calcutta political underworld, and notes that Azad's connec-

Preparatory Years (1888-1910)


It is ironic that, just as Azad was becoming interested in involvement with revolutionary anti-British politics, he was present in Dacca for the inauguration of the Muslim League, with its emphasis on loyalty ~-o the British. The meeting took place on 31 December 1906, and on 25 December Azad wrote to the owner of the weekly Dar al-Saltanat, which he was to start editing from mid January 1907, that he was leaving for Dacca that evening and asking for a month's salary in advance. The presence of the young newspaper 111an at this historic meeting would explain the later erroneous story that he had joined the League at its first meeting. 118 The chronology of the next two years is unclear, due to Azad's conflicting accounts. In Azad ki Kahani, he says that he worked at Dar al-Saltanat for eight or nine months, then rejoined Waku. He had promised to return to Amritsar when he left the first time, and in addition he complained that the owner of Dar al-Saltanat did not take a personal interest in the publication, but allowed the policy of the paper to be influenced by the opinions of ~is -friends. When Azad returned to Waki/,, however, he found that because of changes· in his own political views, Shaikh Ghulam Muhammad and he could no longer agree. Previously, they had been drawn to each other because of their common. devotion ·to· Sir Sayyid. Now, Azad says that there had been so many changes in his thinking that recounting them would sound.like a whole life history. At any rate, he coula no longer stay at Wakil but left 'after nine or ten months' and went first to his sister's home in Bhopal, and then to Poona, where the climate in the rains is good, and where he could recoup his health after the dreadful heat of May and June in the P.u njab. The next dateable event is the telegram he received in Poona, summoning him to his father's death bed. That was in August 1908.1 19 tion with it is much more cenain in the al-Hilal and Khilafat periods than during the earlier swadeshi movement. 118 Letter to Muhammad Yusuf quotec:l in Bedar, Azad, pp. 83-4; Hafeez Malik, 'Abul Kalam Azad's Theory of Nationalism'~ MW, 53 (1963): 33; Ziya ul-Hasan Faruqi, The Deoband School and the Demand for Pakistan, p. 51. 119 Kahani, pp. 129,296 301; Bedar,Azad, p. 40.


Abul Kalam Azad

In India Wins Freedom, however, Azad states that in 1908 he made an extended trip to West Asia, including Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Turkey, and was recalled from this trip by the news of his father's illness. 120 Bedar' s careful reconstruction of the chronology of Azad's journalistic career states that he spent only a couple of months with Dar al-Saltanat, then returned to V - akil after eight or nine months in Calcutta, but did not stay with Vakil for long. 121 · The first account has the advantage of internal consistency. •The second account would have given Azad time for a tour to West Asia, and seems consistent with the dissatisfaction he gave as his reason for leaving both papers. In the latter case, the 'nine or ten months' he spent with Wakil may have been the total of both periods with that paper. What is certain is that ·between January 1907 and August 1908, Azad worked for Dar al-Saltanat in Calcutta for a time, he then returned to Wakil in Amritsar for a time, and he was in Calcutta at the time of his father's death in August 1908. What is less certain are Azad's claims to have established a connection with the B·e ngal revolutionaries and to have travelled to West Asia, all within this less than two-year period. If he was in Calcutta long enough to establish a relationship of trust with the revolutionaries, he probably did not have time for an extended foreign tour. If he undertook the latter, then the revolutionary connection seems problematic. 122 t.?c IWF, pp. 5-6; this account would seem to be corroborated by Louis Massignon's tribute to Azad in Kabir, ed., Memorial Volume, pp. 27-8, where the French scholar recalls meeting Azad when he was in Iraq in 1907-8. Malik Ram dates Azad's journey to West Asia to after his father's death in August 1908. This, however, would have been after Massignon's stay io Iraq and would contradict Azad's report that he was recalled from Turkey because of his father's illness. . 121 Bedar, Azad, pp. 82-3_ ; but the reconstruction of this chronology was hampered by the fact that Pedar found no copies of Dar al-Saltanat and thr files of Wakil at the Khuda Bakhsh Library lack the year 1908. 122 Editorial note: This paragraph is an editorial addition: Douglas's thesis puts credence in Azad's account of his foreign tour and discounts Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi's speculation in Ma'arif (Azamgarh) that Azad had never

Preparatory Years(1888-1910)


Azad's connection with the Islamic world of West Asia, of course, was deep-seated. Even though he wrote more about his Indian ancestry, he was proud of his Arab heritage, and regarded Arabic as his mother tongue. He was brought up on stories of l1is father's exploits in the Hejaz and Constantinople and spent the first ten ytars of his life in Mecca. He read all the Arabic journals and all the Arabic books on modern knowledge that he could get hold of, and he boasted that he probably knew more of the Arab world than anyone else in India. Persian also was part of his literary heritage. Some of his early writing had been about Persian poetry, and this was a special part of his fellowship with Shibli in Lucknow. From Shibli, he also would have heard about the latter's visits to Turkey, Egypt, and Syria, and contacts with literary figures in those places, including Abduh. He recounts an early introduction to Turkish views from a Turk he chanced to meet in a mosque in Calcutta. lie brought him home, where he lived for seven or eight months. 1·his was during the time of Sir Sayyid's influence on Azad, and he says he was impressed to find that this Turk had the same philosophical approach to religion as did reformed Indian Muslims. 123 Azad had also visiied West Asia on more than one occasion following his migration to India from Mecca. He went to Iraq with his brother in 1904, but returned early because of illness. His brother stayed on and visited Syria, Turkey, and the Hejaz, returned to India in ill health, and died young in · t 906. In addition, Azad mentions a visit to 1v1ecca in 1905. 124 Thus, if Azad travelled to West Asia in 1908, it was by no means his first introduction to that part of the world, although it would gone on such a journey. Douglas notes the conflicting sources, however, without adequate attention to the chronological difficulties. P..ajat Ray's article, 'Revolutionaries, Pan-Islamists and Bolsheviks .... ' cited above, note 117, places son1e credence in Azad's revolutionary connection, though with greater emphasis on the al-Hilal period ana later. Azad's accounts conflict, they cannot both be true, and further research is needed to clear up the discrepancy. 123 Kahani, pp. 212-14; Shibli, Sfl[ar Nam,,i-e-Rum o Misr o Sham; Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism, p. 129. 124 Kahani, pp. 126-8,160-1; Bedar, Azad, pp. 42-3.


Abul Kalam Azad

have been his first visit there as an adult. This time, furthermore, corresponded to his period of rapidly evolving political views. What events, individuals, and ideas did he there encounter which he did not already know from his reading? He says that he met Iranian revolutionaries in Iraq, and Arab nationalists and Turkish revolutionaries in Cairo, and these strengthened his resolve to arouse Indian Muslims to resist their foreign rulers. He particularly mentions spending a long time in Egypt. It could not have been more than a few months, but one biographer magnified this into a statement that Azad had studied at al-Azhar, a statement repeated by several others. Azad denied this, explaining that he had simply reflected on the education at al-Azhar, noting that it was so hopelessly out of date that Abduh had, in despair, founded another institution, the Dar ul-Ulum, to replace it. The biographer, Mahadev Desai, had misunderstood his point and had assumed that he had studied at al-Azhar. But if Desai was misled, he was not the only one. Azad too had made an inaccurate statement about Abduh's connections with al-Azhar and the Dar ul-Ulum in Cairo, which showed that he did not have a detailed knowledge of Abduh's life and work, or of the situation in Egypt. 125 Other writers, in commenting on the Egyptian influence on Azad, make such statements as: At Cairo, where he stayed for some time, he imbibed the spirit of the reformatory movement which had been launched by Syed Jamaluddin Afghani and Shayk Muhammad Abduh .... It was the influence of 125

IWF, pp. 5--6; Mahadev Desai, Maulana Abu/ Ka/am Azad, p. 13; cf. A. B. Rajput, Maulana Abu/ Ka/am Azad (Lahore: Lion Press, 1946), p. 21; and J. Nehru, in Kabir, ed., Memorial Volume, p. 3. On Abduh and alAzhar, the fact is that Abduh taught there until a few months before his death, when he resigned from its governing council, but only because of a public· attack on him in a speech by the Khedive. It is true that, towards the end of his life, Abduh lost hope of seeing reform, but the Dar ul-Ulum had been founded long before that, and not by him. He thought of founding a faculty independent of al-Azhar, but never did. When a little later, the Free University of Egypt was founded, it may or may not have been a fulfilment of his ideas. See Hourani, Arabic Thought, pp. 15, 154-S;Jomier, Commentaire Coranique, pp. 19, 39.

Preparatory Years (1888-1910)


these two great scholars which stimulated the mind of the young Abul Kalam to inaugurate a like movement in his own country . 126

This statement is apt enough, if the emphasis is on the spirit of the movement, rather than the direct influence of Afghani and Abduh. Ideas such as theirs were 'in the air' at the time, and Azad was doubtless influenced by that atmosphere and the attitudes expressed by Muslims in Cairo, whether his contact was direct or through publications. But there is no basis for the statement that Afghani's 'influence on Abul Kalam Azad was profound'. 127 To evaluate more carefully the nature of the inspiration that Azad received in, or from, Cairo, one must note his specific reference to the followers of Mustafa Kamil pasha. They were not the al-Manar group, who were mainly Syrian writers; nor were they Abduh's party, but rather rivals to it. Abduh's followers and those of Kamil Pasha &\divided between them the minds and allegiance of educated Egyptians' . 128 Mustafa Kamil's circle held views that contrasted with those of Abduh in their more intense Egyptian nationalism and uncompromising opposition to the British. In a sense, they were all partly indebted to Jamaluddin al-Afghani. He had sought to arouse the Muslim world against the European threat by a revival of Islam as a civilization. Unity was the fundamental theme in all his work. Though he did not deny the importance of national ties and advocated that Muslims co-operate with non-Muslims in the national movements of countries like Egypt and India, Afghani nevertheless emphasized Islamic bonds over and above national patriotism. 129 126

Syed Mahmud, 'A J;lesplendent Personality', in Kabir, ed., Memorial Volume, p. 39. 127 Aziz AWmad, Islamic Culture, p. 61, where the footnote reference is to the paragraph by Syed Mahmud just cited; cf. Hourani, Arabic Thought, p. 222. 128 Ibid., p. 199. 129 IWF, p. 6; Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism, p. 129; Hourani, Arabic Thought, pp. 118-19; Anwar Moazzam, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, esp. p. 130, n. 10.


Abu[ Kalam Azad

Mt1hammad Abduh, on the other hand, was an Egyptian nationalist, though not a doctrinaire one. He was aware that common history and interests created bonds among people of different faiths who lived in the same country. He emphasized the need for national education; even foreign rule, if it helped in that process, could be tolerated. On this issue, he parted compa11y with Afghani. In keeping with his concern about the tension between Islam and modern civilization, both of which had to be taken into account, Abduh advocated trying to profit from the British presence in Egypt after 1882. The occupation, however, ga·ve nationalist consciousness a new force and produced a new and uncompromising expression of it led by Mustafa Kamil ( 184 7-1908). Abduh and Karn ii were politically and te1nperamentally incompatible. Abduh regarded the younger man as an empty demagogue whose 'illegitimate' methods were bound to fail. Kamil regarded Britain as the unquestioned enemy. He established his Nationalist Party (Hizb ul-Watan) in 1907, the very year that Abduh's followers founded the People's Party (Hizb ul-Umma). 'Kamil, already master of the students and the street, seen1ed capable of becoming that of the g~vernment, but he died the next year.' Qasim Amin, one of Abduh's disciples, wrote that he had felt the heart of Egypt beating the day that Mustafa Kamil was buried. 130 In the year of Kamil's funeral, 'the first great popular manifestation of the new national spirit', the twenty-year-old Azad came into contact with some of his followers. The ideas current amor1g them were not Abduh's ideas in favour of educating Egyptian society in political virtue (which bear some resem·blance to Sir Sayyid's ideas), but rather emphasized the need to generate energy for the struggle against the BritiSi'i. Immediate evacuation without conditions was their motto. Egypt's revival would occur onl}'- through her own efforts, especially towards unity, and this could only be based on a patriotic spirit (wataniya ), as in Europe. Such patriotism could have no limitatio11s of language, religion, or status; it should include all who lived in Egypt, Ch.ristian Copts and Muslims alike. 1'here should be L\C

l-1uurani, A rabic 7·J1ou9.,hi , pp. 156- 8, 193, 198-202.

Preparatory Years (1888-1910)


no conflict between the spheres of rel~gion and national life; true religion teaches true patriotism. Whether or not Azad heard all these ideas specifically enunciated, they were the kinds of things that Egyptian nationalists were saying and writing at that time. The conservative ulama in Egypt continued to inveigh against nationalism as a concept unknown prior to the western occupation and as a rival to traditional Islamic unity. But nationalism, though European in origin, had become an accepted part of the defense against European domination. 131 The fo11n of nationalism to which Azad was drawn, therefore, was not the thoughtful, guarded aspirations of Abduh's followers, but rather the vigorous, uncompromising demands of the Kamil enthusiasts. Like all Egyptian nationalists, they envi~aged co-operation of Muslims and non-Muslims, but for them the consuming passion was the eviction of the British enemy. Here were Muslims of the same order as the revolutionary Hindus of Bengal. Azad's politics during the al-Hila/ period, and during his co-operaJion with non-Musli~s in the Congress party, was thus the expression, in the Indian context and at the appropriate time, of the kind of nationalism emanating from Egypt which had impressed him beginning in 1908. Azad also says that he met in Cairo a group of 'Young Turks', who published a weekly from their centre there, and later mentions the 'Sarruf brothers'. His reference is to the Lebanese writers who produced the newspaper al-Muqattam and the monthly al-Muqtataf, which he read at the newspaper office in Calcutta. Such Lebanese and Syrian liberals, established in Cairo before the 1908. Turkish revolution that restored the Ottoman constitution, were beyond the reach of the sultan's police and thus able to attack his policies witp impunity. From reading the Arab press opposed to the sultan, Azad presumably avoided the kind of unsophisticated equation of 'Ottoman' with 'Islamic' which characterized the thinking of some other Indian Muslims later during the Khilafat movement. From Cairo, Azad says he then went to Turkey and became friends Ibid., pp. 170, 202-7; G. E. von Grunebaum, Modern Islam-The Search for Cultural Identity (New York: Vintage, 1964), p. 310. 131


Abul Kalam Azad

with some of the leaders of the Young Turk n1ovement, keeping up his correspondence with them for years after his return to India. These Arab and Turkish contacts expressed surprise that Muslims in India were subservient to the British and isolated from the Hindus who were leading the nationalist movement. They felt that Muslims should be in the forefront of the struggle for freedom. Thes~ sentiments reinforced Azad's similar feelings and fired his dete11nination to take up this political cause upon his return to India. 132 This examination of the Muslim influences operating on Azad's emerging nationalist consciousness during this period leaves open the question whether he actually visited West Asia, and especially Cairo, in 1908~ There are enough inconsistencies in the various accounts to cause serious doubts, but that does not mean that Azad had no contact with Arab nationalist intellectuals, Young Turks, or other revolutionaries of various stamps during this period. Azad read Arabic fluently and avidly, and he was particularly drawn to the types of literature that his father disliked, but that the ideas and references in the writings of Sir Sayyid, or Shibli in person, would have recommended. He had read Abduh and Rida of al-Manar, and possibly Afghani. Certainly, his later writings on the institution of the caliphate show remarkable parallels with the writings of Rashid Rida (1865-1935). 133 He read the Arabic language press and knew of nationalist developments, whether anti-British or antiOttoman. His nationalism was closer to that of Mustafa Kamil than to that of Abduh, but that is natural given his rejection of Sir Sayyid's politics. It is quite possible, therefore, that Azad did not visit the Muslirr1 world at this juncture. He may have, but he did 132

IWF, p. 6; Speeches of Abu/ Kalani Azad (Delhi: Government of India, 1956), pp. 4-5. The 'Sarruf brothers' were Sarraf Yaqub and Faris Nimr, not brothers, although sometimes taken to be so. Hourani, Arabic Thought, pp. 220,246,264. 133 Ibid., pp. 226-44; Malcolm .K err, Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), pp. 153-86; cf. Azad, Mas'ala-e-Khilafat wa Jazirat al-'Arab (Calcutta: al-Balagh Press, 1920; reprint, Delhi: Hali Publishing House, 1961 ).

Preparatory Years (1888-1910)


not have to. He was in touch with the climate of opinion there at the time, and it was in tune with the searchings of his own mind. In the creation of a useful ideology for his future career, an imaginative journey to the Arab world was perhaps more useful. In any case, the important point is not whether he made the trip or not, but the fact that Azad was able to synthesize ideas from the Arab world and his own experience to produce an ideology that was relevant in the Indian Muslim context. 134 Azad says that he had to cut short his travels because of his father's illness, and he returned to Calcutta just a few hours before Khairuddin's death. 135 His brother's premature death a couple of years earlier meant that Azad now succeeded to his father's position of religious leadership, something he had earlier rejected. The strain that succeeding a pir must have imposed on one who called himself a secret unbelie~·er can well be imagined. Further, he was now a thoroughly convinced nationalist, and wanted to work towards rallying Indian Muslims to the antiBritish cause. He spent the next year or more deciding what to do with his life, and this was the most decisive period in his f or1r1ative years. RECOVERY OF FAITH

In his Tazkira, Azad has written a poetic description of this period in his life, between the ages of twenty-one and twentytwo, which he called 'the real season of the n1adness of youth', when he had a love affair that had a lasting effect on his life. This intensely personal experience ultimately ended in failure and sorrow, but led him back to faith in God. It is possible to fix this period in his life fairly precisely between 1908 and 1910, • and because of other references to the end of his secret atheism 134

Editorial note: This entire paragraph is an editorial addition. Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi, in particular, doubts whether Azad made his trip to the Muslim world. See Maktubat-e-Sulaimani, ed. by Abdul Majid Daryabadi (l.. ucknow: Sidq-e-Jadid Book Depot, 1963), vol. 1, pp. 9-10; cf. Abdul Latif Azmi, 'Maulana Abul Kalam Azad par Chand be-Bunyad l'tirazat', Zaban o Adah, 12, 2 (April-June 1986): 24 48, 135. IWF, p. 6; Kahani, pp. 129,301. 135 IWF, p. 6; Kahani, pp. 129,301.

Abul Kalam Azad


and his religious restoration, to the period immediately following his father's death in August 1908 and tet 1ninating at the end of · l 909. 136 On psychological grounds, this is perfectly · understandable. The passing of this dominant figure, of whom he had lived in such awe, gave the young man both a sense of release and a realization of new re~ponsibilities as head of the family and as successor to a pir. Such conflicting feelings often lead to a search for human sympathy, divine guidance, or both. In his youth, as he has testified, Azad devoted all his energies to literary and scholarly pursuits. He had been married young, but probably did not live with his wife until she reached maturity, and in any case, he had been moving from place to place frequently, while she stayed home in Calcutta. 137 His frequent displacements to Lucknow, Amritsar, Bombay, Poona, and maybe West Asia brought him into contact with societies far less rigid than his own home. Add to all this his confession that, for years, the restraint of former religious conviction had been missing, and the conclusion is inescapable that the time and circumstance were ripe for the experiences he describes. 138 136

Tazkira, pp. 321, 331; Zikr, pp. 259-60; al-Hila/ 1 (8), 1 Sept. 1921;

Letter from Azad to S. Sulaiman Nadwi, written in Feb. 1914 (see appendix to eh. II, below). 137 Azad was formally married when he was twelve or thirteen and his wife eight. They lived together, apparently, from 1907 (since in Ghubar-e-Khatir, after her death in 1943, he refers to their thirty-six years of life together). His wife, Zulaikha, was the daughter of one of his father's disciples in Calcutta; her sister was married to Azad's elder brother. Azad's brother left his widow and a young son upon his death in 1906. Azad and his wife had one son who died at about age four. Bedar, Azad, pp. 53, 66-7, 73; Zikr, p. 426; GK, p. 241; for an English translation of Azad's letter upon the death of his wife (from GK:), see Arsh Malsiani, Abul Kalam Azad (New Delhi: Publications Division, 1976), pp. 9-10, 157-63. • 138 On Malihabadi's insistence that he write frankly of the waywardness of his youth, since the poetic language of Tazkira made him appear afraid to be frank, Azad wrote out a manuscript and gave it to his amanuensis in jail in 1922, but recalled it later for 'revisions' and never gave it back. Zikr, pp. 27~1. In an excellent review article on the Tazkira, Mujeeb summarizes•this phase of Azad' s story, illustrating it with paraphrases and translations from the text. M. Mujeeb, 'The Tadhkirah: A Biography in Symbols', in Kabir, ed., Memorial Volume, pp. 134-52.

Preparatory Years (1888-1910)


Suddenly, as he put it, when he least expected it, _the grace of God appeared in the for1n of sensual love. A fire may burn slowly and a flood spread gradually but this was like a bolt of lightning that left behind a heap of ashes. 'In reality, there are three stages: desire, love, truth.' Here, he says he refers to love in the 'narrow, impure, physical sense', not the absolute or divine love that embraces all creation. No doubt this was a lapse, but what can one say against a lapse that casts one at the feet of the beloved-in the sense that profane love makes one mindful of divine love? 'The end of all effort is to reach Him. If lapses and intoxication lead us there, why should not those thousand for 111s of constancy and sobriety' be foregone? If the object of existence is to break all ties that bind one to the worship of things other than God, there are only two ways this can happen: either by untying all knots one by one, or else by cutting them in a single slash of a sword. The way of search and enquiry is the for 111er, but only the angel of love has the power to effect the latter. Sacred and profane love have this in common: they attract the heart to one object and detach it from all the rest. That is why the nearest way to sacred love is through profane love. Once the marks on the forehead from many different prostrations are replaced by only one, then it is easy to wipe away this one for the sake of the true object of worship. 139 Utilizing the poetic imagery of the sufi quest for divine love, Azad leaves no doubt that he regarded this experience as accelerating his maturation, the integration and galvanizing of his whole being, enabling him to go on to live effectively. It is a measure of his powers of introspection and his artistic qualities that Azad could see such an intensely human experience in its religious light. He then goes on to emp~asize that such an experience can only be a stage along the way. The destination must be reached. If onward progress is arrested at any halting place, then that stage becomes an idol and the traveller an idolworshipper, whether he display his worship through the (orthodox) counting of beads, or through the (mystic's) wearing 0


Tazkira, pp. 317-20; cf..Mujeeb, 'The Tadhkirah', in Memorial Volume,

pp. 144 6.


Abu/ Ka/am Azad

of tattered ga1111ents. So Azad thanks God that he did not halt too long at the stage of sensual love. In 'a year and five months' he experienced everything, and left 'no nook, no comer unseen'. Although the whole episode ended in failure and despondency, in reality it led him to victory and success. Sorrow opened the door to hope. In a succession of literary metaphors, he describes the transformation wrought in him: The world, that tavern of oblivion where I had tasted the wine of heedlessness, whose visions tempted my eyes, whose melodies charmed my ears, that same world now so tranformed itself that every bit of it was a picture of sobriety and wisdom, a lesson for the seeing eye and the knowing mind; every particle was eager for dialogue, every leaf was a document, flowers opened their lips, stones raised themselves and beckoned, the downtrodden dust rose up to come down as a shower of pearls, the hea,:ens descended to answer questions, the earth lifted itself up so that the stars might be plucked from the sky, ang~ls held my arms to prevent me from falling, the lamp of the sun shone to prevent me from stun1bling; all veils were thrown off, all curtains riddled with holes; every eyebrow gave a message, every eye had a story to tell. t .Jo

He also emphasizes that he trod a solitary path, following no one's footsteps. Disregarding convention, he went his own way. In finding one's way among the diverse paths to divine grace, it is easier if one has a spiritual guide. But he had none. In this, as in so many other instances in his life, he thinks that he was indebted to no hand nor tongue, neither to family nor to training. 141 In fact, as previously indicated, his life was far from unrelated to what circumstances would lead one to expect, and this experience was no exception. Having rejected the sufi path and his father as his pir (guide) along that path, he found his way back to God, and asserted his own individuality in the process, through his own style of mystical experience. This was a type of mysticism more characteristic of poets than men of God, distinctly no11-conformist. His concluding comment on this phase of his life is that it left 140 141

Tazkira, pp. 321-6; cf. Mujeeb, 'The Tadhkirah', pp. 147-8. Tazkira, pp. 329-30.

Preparatory Years (1888-1910)


him with no regrets. Others may be content always to walk the straight path of purity, but lie counts his fleshly indulgence and revelry as 110 misfortune. He had come through it all and could be content on the path he now trod. If he had not passed through that stage, he would not know how many aspects of the search for truth he had missed. 142 Speculation as to the identity of the person with whom Azad was involved is quite irrelevant. The account in Tazkira is solely concerned with what the experience meant to Azad himself. Its style is unique but its imagery is that of sufi mystical poetry, and there too the identity of the beloved is unimportant; the love significant because it calls the soul to God. It must be admitted, however, that Azad's account of his experience in Tazkira, written several years later, reflects what the affair meant to him in retrospect. In a letter Azad later wrote to Sayyid Sulaiman N adwi, one learns that these months had been punctuated by 'occasional strong spells of remorse and revulsion', which did not last. He says frankly, if imprecisely, that he had been: involved in various forms of misconduct and there was scarcely any degree of sinfulness which escaped the poor wretch that I was. This · was the condition of my behaviour and, as far as belief was concerned, I was a heretic, or a virtual heretic.

This stage came to an abrupt end when: •

in Bombay, such tragic events intervened that there was a complete revolution in my condition, and God granted me the grace of repentance. I determined firmly that I would keep myself from anything forbidden and would act upon the injunctions [of the shari'a].

In this letter to a friend, who was also an alim, Azad passes up the mystical explanation of his behaviour in favour of an explanation that stresses repentance and divine compassion. In the same letter Azad goes on to say that, though he remained free from forbidden acts as far as his outward behaviour was concerned, he was still plagued by sins of the heart and mind, and thus true inner piety escaped him . .He had to face the fact 1.. 1

Ibid., pp. 327,331; Mujeeb, 'The Tadhkirah', p. 152.


Abul Kalam Azad

that he was not 'an abstemious man of saintly life'. But he was sustained by a very firm trust in God and a consuming passion for service to the truth. 143 One must conclude that what happened to Azad at the end of 1909 was a genuine religious experience, which was the culmination of all his preparatory years. This experience gave him the spiritual energy to fulfil the political plans he already had in mind. This experience was clearly not intellectual, but emotional, although it resolved his intellectual problems in a characteristic way. As always, Azad's descriptions are poetic. He quotes an authority significant in his own development, al-Ghazali, whom he describes as one whG has trodden all the paths of investigation and finally reached the goal: 'Doubt leads to seeking, seeking to wonder, and wonder to conviction.' 144 In various metaphors, he portrays the passage from wonder to conviction. He likens himself to a lost traveller falling unconscious beneath a tree and then awakening to find that he is resting in his home country, beneath the roof of his beloved home. Or • again: suddenly the light of hope shone before me. Just as I cannot say from where had come the hand which pushed me into the darkness, so I cannot explain the hand which suddenly pulled me out into the light. Nevertheless, the fact is that the light was suddenly manifested, and after nine years of groping in the dust, I found what I was seeking right in front of me. All doubts faded, all disappointments disappeared, and I found the certainty and peace I had been seeking....

Or, in yet another figure of speech: 'suddenly the dark curtain was parted. I lifted my eyes and there was the face of the lost truth, unveiled before me' . 145

These descriptions, with their imagery of light and darkness, of veiling and unveiling, show that Azad's religious experience was a mystical one. His emphasis on rationalism and intellectual Abdul Majid Daryabadi, ed., Maktubat-e-Sulaimani, vol. 1, pp. 20-7; for the translated text, see appendix to eh. II, below. 144 ~ahani, p. 319. · 145 Zikr, p. 252. 143

Preparatory Years (1888-1910)


comprehension, as during his period of devotion to Sir Sayyid, had been misleading: I now realized that the territories of religion (mazhab) and reason ('aql) are completely separate, and their respective positions are such that they cannot be put in mutual confrontation .... We can traverse the way of the material and of sense perception by intellectual comprehension, but for the world about which religion tells us, only jazba (mystical attraction) is relevant. 146

This idea of the separate spheres of science and religion, with reason being legitimately confined to the f011ner, is found in Abduh. Azad had read Risa/at al-Tawhid a number of years earlier, arid may have been influenced by it, but the spirit of his distinction between the two spheres is quite different. Abduh avoids the disparagement of reason and insists on a genuine complementarity of the two spheres, while Azad, at least at this stage, appears to be dismissing reason in matters strictly religious.147 In summarizing various pamphlets he wrote around this time, Azad states: 'Human knowledge, at the very most, is still only doubt, opinion, and conjecture. But true and pure religion begins with certainty ... '. Or again: 'We cannot comprehend the being and attributes of God by means of reason ... only through allowing our emotions free rein can we reach Him ... ' . 148 The experience of mystic faith was essential in his own return to religion. Meanwhile, in explaining God's work in nature, and thus dealing with the realm of science, Azad continued to sound like Sir Sayyid: 'God is one and all His works are integrated.' 149 This would seem to deny his position about the incompatibility 146

Ibid., p. 260. 147 Kenneth Cragg, Counsels in Contemporary I slam (Edinburgh: University Press, 1965), pp. 37-40. 148 The first quote is fro~ al-Burhan, as summarized by Malihabadi in Zikr, pp. 287-8; the second from Ithaf al-Khalaf, again summarized in Zikr,. pp. 286-7; both the account of his 'religious revolt' (mazhabi inqilab) and the summary of his early writings were handed over to Malihabadi, the latter reports, by Azad himself, ibid., pp. 249-63, 281-93. 149 From his al-Din al-Qaiyim, in Zikr, pp. 291-2.


Abul Kalam Azad

of faith and reason. In fact, Azad remained inconsistent on this point. His emotions had reopened the realm of faith for him, but rationalism was a habit that Azad found impossible to renounce. It was not only an element in his modernist intellectual explorations, but also-and primarily-an integral part of his traditional scholastic training. On the other question that had vexed him, that of the multiplicity of religions, Azad summarized his solution: I realized that the religion which the world recognizes by the name of Islam was indeed the solution to the problem of the differences in religion. Islam does not want to establish any new religion, but its mission, according to its own testimony, is simply that the followers of all religions in the world be established on their original and unadulterated truth and forsake the mixture of imported false elements. In the language of the Quran, this is lslan1 .... It tells the Christian to become a true Christian, the Jew to become a true Jew, the Parsi to become a true Parsi. In the same way, it says to Hindus that they rcestablish their original truth .... This is called 'Islam' ....

He then says that the problem of the continuation of different religions could theoretically be resolved in three ways. Of these, he rejects two as impossible: that all are right, and that all are wrong. The only remaining possibility is that all are both ·true and untrue. That is, the fundamental principle is one and is found in all. It is the adulteration which is wrong. It is the ,ause of difference, and all are involved in it. If they [religions] free themselves from adulteration and manage to test and purify the original, then it will become clear that there is only one [religion], and that everyone follows it. 150

The implication contained in this solution is that the process of purification ought logically to apply to current Islam as well. Azad does not enunciate this. Rather he appears to assume that the 'common and universal essence' of religions, if their pristine state could be restored, would be identical to Islam. The problem then becomes how to define pristine Islam. Ibid., pp. 26~3; he summarizes the same argument from a pamphlet he wrote called al-Din al-Kha/is, in ibid., pp. 288-9; cf. The Tarjuman alQur'an, tr. by Syed Abdul Latif, vol. 1, pp. 174, 182. 150

Preparatory Years (1888-1910)


The docun1entary evidence ot these intellectual solutions, which Azad claitns to have worked out at the time of his recovery of faith in 1910, all date from 1922. There is therefore some danger of Azad reading his more mature thought into his mind as it was in 1910. All such rationalizations were subsequent to his recovery of faith, which he describes as essential!y emotional. Once his faith was restored, he could go on to reflect, not only on these theological problems, put also on his political ambitions. Since 1906, Azad had b~en building a vision of political action for Muslims in India. Now his own participation could be Islamically motivated, vitalized by his recovered faith. From the time of his father's death until early 1910, Azad's time was taken up, as he testifies, in his pursuit of sensual indulgence. But in the period immediately following his recovery of faith, he wrote an article for al-Nadwa, published in April 1910, entitled 'Nadwat ul-Ulama and the Goal of Indian Muslims'. In it, he says that modern education of the Aligarh variety h-ad produced only job-hunters. The only hope for Indian Muslims lay in following the lead of the N adwa. This is in line with his view, revealed later in al-Hila/, that the leader-. ship of the Muslims ought to come from the ulama, but that the present ulama were not adequate to the task. His only hope was in Shibli and in those he might influence. 151 Also beginning in 1910, .he became more enthusiastically involved in planning for the future, and the preparations for setting up his press took considerable time. Later he wrote that, at the very beginning of his public life, he l1ad the opportunity to decide on his path of action. He wanted to be like a wise traveller who took stock of the way before the journey commenced. One particular decision he said he made was to avoid the perpetual business of chairing meetings, officering societies, and such obligations: This decision was in fact fundamental and a natural result of my religious conviction. The way of action I had selected for myself was the way of mission and proclamation, not the conventional way of 151

S.M. Ikram, Modern Muslim India, p. 126; al-Hila/, 1 (4),





Abul Kalam Azad

leadership in the present age. For authority I had before me the example of those select persons who are called the apostles and prophets of God .... I had no desire to be like Garibaldi, Mazzini, Gladstone, or Parnell .... The way of service and mission of the prophets of God, and the way of rule and government of twentieth century leaders, could not be combined in one life. 152

Azad never lacked confidence in himself. Now, that confidence was vested with divine authority. Along with renewed trust in God, he had acquired a supreme sense of divinely-ordained personal vocation. This heavenly mission on earth was to be fulfilled in a prophetic manner. In this spirit, he resolutely and systematically laid his plans for the press from which he intended to proclaim his call to action.


Abul Kalam Azad, Mas'ala-e-Khilafat wa ]azirat al-'Arab (1920 edn. ), foreword quoted in Bedar, Azad, p. 75.


al-Hila! and Khilafat: Religious and Political Activism (1910-1'922) From 1910 until his imprisonment in 1921, Azad felt that God had called him to arouse the Muslims of India and persuade them to join the movement for political liberation. On his release in 1923 his political activity continued, but with a significant shift in his conception of his own role. During the period 1910-22, his vision of himself as some kind of a mujaddid or imam, whom God would vindicate in the way He vindicated the prophets, steadily enlarged. He envisaged leading the Muslims at the head of a 'Party of God' (Hizbullah ), which would unite all Indians in ousting the British and enable Muslims to exercise their divinelyordained right to govern. A more sober -politician emerged from the Calcutta jail in 1923, ready to work within the nor 111al party structures he had for 111erly regarded as beneath the dignity of one chosen to be a spiritual successor to the prophets. Azad considered that his public role had begun in 1910-11, following the restoration of his faith at the end of 1909. During his trial in January 1922, he told the magistrate that 'in the last twelve years I have been training my community and my country to demand their rights and their liberty.' 1 His political impact on the Muslims of India, however, really began in July 1912, with the first issue of al-Hila[. The paper ran for two and a half.years, and within that time the shift in Muslim political attitudes was Azad, Qaul-e-Faisal, p. 67; cf. Durlab Singh, Famous Trials of Mahatma Gandhi, ]awaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Ka/am Azad (Lahore: Hero 1

Publishers, 1944), p. 61.


Abu/ Kalam Azad

amazing. Azad and his admirers sometimes make it sound as if he were solely responsible. 2 While this is not so, he was nevertheless an outstanding character in the drama. After an interval of a year, he recommenced publication under the title al-Balagh, but this only ran.for four months. Years later, a new series of al-Hila/ ran for six months in 1927. In this latter effort, Azad's name appeared as editor, but the articles were usually unsigned and the main work was done by his associate, Abdur Razzaq Malihabadi. 3 Azad's personal activity by that time. was of a different order. The real period of the journal al-Hila/, therefore, is 1912-16. Within this short period Azad's achievement was remarkable. Reasons for his success involved timing, the choice of issues, and especially style. The appearance of al-Hila/ was happily timed. A more outspoken Muslim press was emerging in these years. Muhammad Ali started his English-language weekly, Comrade, in Calcutta at the beginning of 1911. After the Coronation Durbar of December 1911 revoked the partition of Bengal, Comrade ran a series of articles deploring the government's action. The Durbar also announced the shift of the capital from Calcutta to De)hi, so in 1912 Muhammad Ali moved his paper there and also started his Urdu journal, H amdard. In his two papers, Muhammad Ali commented on events in the Islamic world, with particular emphasis on the plight of Turkey, faced with aggressive European powers in the Tripolitan and Balkan wars. Zafar Ali Khan's Zamindar of Lahore broke new ground in arousing popular interest in the press. Zamindar was a weekly started in 1903, but it became a daily in 1912 and was the first 2

For exampl~: 'I am the first among the Muslims of India who issued a general invitation to his community in 1912 to commit this ''crime'' {the agitation which sought to terminate the government's unlimiteo authority in the name of liberty and justice) and within three years completely reversed their slavish course.' Qaul.;.e-Faisal, p. 37; cf. Durlab Singh, Famous Trials, pp. 46, 62; and Fazluddin Ahmad, Intro. to Tazkira, pp. 13-14. 3 Al-Hila/ appeared from 13 July 1912 to 18 December 1914; al-Balagh from 12 November 1915 to 17-31 March 1916; al-Hila/ reappeared fron1 10 June to 9 December 1927; on Abdur Razzaq Malihabadi, see n. 154, below.

al-Hilal and Khilafat


Urdu paper to subscribe to Reuters and other agencies. Zafar Ali Khan's sty le was highly emotional, and he too played up the growing difficulties of Turkey and Muslim discontent Vt~ith their political leaders' policy of loyalty to the British. Al-Hila/ moved into this atmosphere of growing political discontent. 4 Azad, furthermore, made his technical preparations well. With financial help from his father's disciples, he was able to set up a high-quality press capable of very clear printing in Urdu type and excellent half-tone pictures. He also used the best quality paper. In its attractive appearance, al-Hila! excelled Comrade-as Azad no doubt fully intended it should. In addition, with his literary style, Azad clearly mastered the field. Later generations have criticized him for verbosity, occasional obscurity, and his appeal to the emotions rather than to the intellect. After the pedestrian style of ordinary, Urdu papers, however, al-Hila/ completely swept its readers off their feet. Humayun Kabir has characterized Azad's style as unique in the history of Urdu language an,l literature, capturing the imagination of the youth of the community with its poetic grace and its fot 111ulation of a new faith. This was the greatest appeal of alH ilal. Azad handled current political issues skilfully, sometimes to the discomfiture of his political rivals, but his journalistic supremacy was based on his powerful style and his religious appeal. Al-Hila/ spoke in the language of a 'high-souled prophet'; throughout, he 'had the stamp of the mujtahid'. One who later became an admirer and close associate of Azad admitted that this characteristic at first irritated him. 'This man seems to be making himself out to be a prophet or the mahdi.' In any case, the technique worked. 5 Abdul Majid Salik, 'Growth of Muslim Journalism', in A History of the Freedom Movement (Karachi: Pakistan Historical Society, 1963), vol. 3, pt 2, pp. 455-9; S.M. Ikram, Modern Muslim India, pp. 136-7; Minault, Khilafat Movement, pp. 22-4. s Humayun Kabir, 'A Personal Testament', in Memorial Volume, pp. 69-78; Ikram, Modern Muslim India, pp. 136-9; Minault, Khilafat Movement, pp. 40-1; Fazluddin Ahmad, Intro. to Tazkira, p. 13; Malihabadi, Zikr, p. t 7; mujtahid : one qualified to exercize ijtihad, i.e. capable of interpreting the shari'a. 4


Abul Kalam Azad

Within the first three months, all the old issues had to be reprinted to meet demands from new subscribers for complete sets. Ultimately the circulation exceeded 25,000. As a religious journal, al-Hila,/ challenged traditional taqlid and offered Azad's fresh interpretation of Islam related to contemporary life. Politically, it challenged the position of loyalty to the British represented by Aligarh. If the intelligentsia were captivated by al-Hila/~ Urdu style, and Muslim youth were fire~ by its activist faith, the Deoband ulama recognized the logic of its call to opposition. Azad was disappointed at the slowness of response from the ulama, but no less a personage than the Shaikh ul-Hind, Maulana Mahmudul Hasan, the Principal of Deoband, complimented Azad by noting that: .'We had forgotten the lesson of jihad and Abul Kalam reminded us again.' This was high praise for the twenty-one-year-old editor from a leading alim of India. Even the poet Hali, loyal supporter of Aligarh to the end, wrote Azad a generous letter approving the publication of al-Hila,l. 6 Perhaps the testimony of Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi is most significant of all, because of the surprising bitterness he showed towards Azad for many years. In spite of this, he felt bound to pay tribute to the influence of al-Hila/. Recalling the period from 1912 to 1920, when Muslim politics took a new turn and Hindu-Muslim unity developed, he noted: I mus~ in all fairness say one thing. This was the time when Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was bringing out al-Hila/, and Muslims were set on fire by his passionate words. He sounded loudly and fiercely the trumpet of jihad, whose name people were afraid to mention, so that the forgotten lesson was on the tongues of people again. 7 M~mudul Hasan's statement is reported by S. Sulaiman Nadwi in Yadrafti~an (Azamgarh: Darul Ma'arif, 1986), pp. 388-9; Hali's letter in Kahani, p. 287; cf. letter to Azad from Shibli dated 27 .0ctober 1913, in Makatib-eShibli, vol. 1, pp. 286-9. 7 Nadwi, Yadraftigan, pp. 388-9; Like Azad, Sulaiman Nadwi (1884-1953) was a protege of Shibli, whose Sirat al-Nabi he saw through the press after Shibli's death, and whose work he carried on at the Nadwat ul-Ulama. He worked with Azad on the staff of al-Hilal for a time in 1913 but left with bad feeling. (See Maktubat-e-Sulaimani, ed. by Abdul Majid Daryabadi, vol. t, 6

al-Hilal and Khilafat


Summarizing Azad's contribution to the new political consciousness among Indian Muslims, one 1nay say that while the annulment of the partition of Bengal ~nd events in Europe showed educated Muslims that old political attitudes needed changing, and the poems and essays of Shibli and others accentuated their disillusionment with the British, those urging that something be done about the situation, pointing the Muslims in the direction of political a_c tion, were the editors of Zamindar, , Comrade and Hamdard, and al-Hila!. 8 After the outbreak of World War I, all three editors were interned by the British and their papers closed. Granting the part played by the timing of the appearance of al-Hila/, its attractive typeface, Azad's literary style and his skilful handling of political issues, the religious colouring of his political message proved the most effective in generating response. The core of Azad's programme was the inseparability of the religious and political spheres. Commentators credit him with creating, through al-Hi/al, a consciousness of current political affairs and a desire for f reeaom in the religious class, and a reverence for religion in the western-educated class. Within the religious sphere, .Azad's appeal was remarkably effective. His emphasis on the Quran as a source for guidance in everyday life led his readers to attach renewed significance to the study of the scripture. Azad did not announce specific objectives in tl1e·first issue of al-Hila/ because he wanted readers first to judge for themselves. He said he did not wish to excite the passions of either the westernized leaders or the ulama. But it was soon evident that these two groups were the objects of his special criticism, the one for slavery to the West and the other for obscurantism. He called upon both to bestir themselves to win ' the faith, which the freedom represented by Islam and to revive· was relevant to all aspects of life. His call was also heard by p. 13.) For several years a bitter correspondence ensued. Then came a period of working together in the Khilafat rr1ovement and in the Congress party. Sulaiman Nadwi finally joined the Muslim League and went to Pakistan. 8 For a political poem by Shibli from al-Hila/, see Minault, Khilafat Movement, pp. 43-4.


Abu/ Kalam Azad

Urdu-reading Muslims outside these two particular groups. 9 To one who comes to the pages of al-Hila/ after study of Azad's religious strt1ggles of a few years earlier, the changed style of his writings is very striking. The intensely religious tone of the language in al-Hila/, together with.the fact that Shibli is on record as having advised Azad to emphasize the picture of himself as a religiou.s man, has led some critics to say that Azad's religion was all a front. Certainly, Shibli knew the value of making religion the basis of political appeal, and he had been a formative influence in Azad's youth. But Azad had left Shibli in 1906 to further his own ambitions and, by 1910, had found his own way back to religious faith. By the time he established al-Hila/, Azad had outgrown Shibli, although he still respected him. Letters from Shibli between 1910 and 1913 urge Azad to 'live more and more in the style of religious teachers', and to sound al-Hilal's call to total involvement in Islam 'loud and clear'. But the religious nature of al-Hilal is not explained by any advice from Shibli; it represented Azad's convictions. 10 Some might still argue, from the fact that Azad ceased to be a fervent Muslim revivalist in the next period of his life, that his stance in al-Hilal was not genuine. This raises the question of the development of Azad's religious thought and the meaning of religion in his life. The study of Azad's preparatory years has shown him gripped by a genuine religious experience, and emerging from it with a strong conviction concerning his service to God and to the Muslims. The language Azad used in al-Hila/ was deliberately cultivated, and Azad,s style accentuated the religious character of his message. His prose had the cadence of scripture and the emotional content of poetry. His Urdu was replete with Persian and Arabic words, and he frequently repeated the same idea in different ways, emphasizing his thought and showing his linguistic versatility at the same time. He wanted the western-educated Mushir ul-Haq, Mkslim Politics, p. 72; S. Abid Husain, The Destiny of Indian Muslims (Bombay: Asia, 1965), pp. 88-9; Ikram, Modern M11slim India, pp. 139-40; al-Hila/ 1 (2): 11. 10 Ikram, Modern Muslim India, pp. 128--9; Shibli, Makatib, t, pp. 271,288. 9


! J


al-Hilal and Khilafat


to adopt religiously motivated politics like his own. Equally, he wanted to persuade the ulama that he was one of them and to lead them into political involvement. The stylistic affectation of a fatiha, or opening editorial written entirely in Arabic, in some volumes of al-Hila/, can have no other explanation. 11 The vast majority of his readers might be impressed, but would not understand it. It must have been addressed primarily to the ulama. Later, he used a highly Arabicized Urdu in Tazkira, for which, again, the ulama were the audience he had in mind. In spit.e of his criticisms of and a1nbivalent feelings towards the ulama, he still identified with them. His writings make the distinction between the true and the false among · them: the ulama-e-haqq and the ulama-e-waqt, or the 'devotees of truth' and the 'time-servers'. In arguing with the western-educated, he portrayed the ulama, at least in former times, as profound scholars of philosophy and history. He respected Shibli because he was a well-qualified alim, and he assiduously, though unsuccessfully, sought the co-operation of Sulaiman Nadwi in his various projects, again because he respected his status as an alim. Later during the freedom struggle, he never rebuked his fellow ulama for the way they used religion, with which he could not have agreed. Even though Azad's language was deliberately calculated to impress, we must recognize his stance in al-Hila/ as genuine. 12 THE MISSION OF AL-HILAL

Azad never conceived of al-Hila/ as an end in itself, but rather as part of a larger movement. Although he v,as quite clear about the journalistic goals of al-Hila/ and was successful in attaining them, he was unclear about the form the larger movement would take. This was primarily because he refused to copy the organizational structures of the modern world and 11

Fatiha: opening; more specifically, the opening chapter of the Quran, used as a prayer. 12 Mushir ul-Haq, Muslim Politics, pp. 132-3; Daryabadi> ed., Maktubate-Sulaimani, 1, p. 45; cf. Azad's letter to Sulaiman Nadwi, app. below.


Abu/ Ka/am Azad

believed that God would act in some apocalyptic manner to bring about change. Because of his desire to be involved in some larger work, Azad was anxious, after the journal was established, to hand over the responsibilities of editing to an associate. The man he desperately wanted to take on this respo11sibility was Sulaiman N adwi, but he was unable to keep him as a colleague. Azad clearly expected Sulaiman N adwi to think as highly of his work as he himself did and to be more than ready to edit a/Hila/. Nadwi declined and left Calcutta. Azad was greatly disturbed and v.rrote to Sulaiman Nadwi on 9 January 1914: Al-Hila! was a movement which created a preparedness. But at the same time we must see that this preparedness leads to actual accomplishment. I have definitely decided that, whatever happens to al-Hila/, the practical work must be commenced. In fact I have already begun it. In such ~ircumstances it was the end of everything that, in spite of being fully able to, you refused to assist me. Please remember that if, on account of those difficulties and obstacles, I am forcibly restrained and frustrated, then on the day of judgment, it is surely you who will be responsible. 13

Thereafter Azad repeatedly referred to the possible discontinuation of al-Hila/. He professed his desire to continue but confessed that he had become disheartened. His discouragement is further evidenced by the fact that for several weeks no editorials appeared, the number of articles signed by others increased, and double numbers became more frequent. In subsequent issues, however, he acknowledged receipt of letters of appreciation. Then, six montl1s after his chagrin over Sulaiman Nadwi, he announced the decision to publish for eleven months in the year only, adding that lie no longer felt obliged to continue making material sacrifices, and increasing the annual subscription rate. 14 Azad saw even routine matters of business, then, in the context of his religious vision. When he felt that God was calling him to some greater work, and the man he considered ideally 13

Maktubat-e-Sulaimani, 1, p. 18. 14 Al-Hila/ 4 (11): 206-11; (12): 230-2; 5 (4): 65. In increasing the subscription rate from Rs 8 to Rs 12, Azad pointed out that the Cairo monthly of the same name was Rs 10 per annum.



al-Hilal and Khilafat


qualified to take over declined to do so, he seriously believed that man would have to answer at the judgment day for his failure in so great a cause. The question of al-Hilal's continuation was soon answered by government action. Because of its religious nature, al-Hila/ was allowed to continue publishing with the payment of a security deposit, in spite of its virulent anti-British tone. When Britain went to war in 1914, however, the government took exception to comments concerning allied reverses in Europe. In November 1914, the Pioneer of Allahabad published an article against a/Hila/ entitled 'Pro-Germanism in Calcutta', supposedly at the instance of the Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces. After quoting from al-Hila/, the article added that any government that allowed 'unchecked malicious insinuations against British soldiers and sailors', possessed a most 'un-Germanic spirit of toleration' . 15 The final issue of al-Hila/ carried a notice giving details of the government action. It announced that on 17 November the Bengal government l1ad forfeited the security deposit of Rs 2000 and confiscated the double number 16-17 (14-21 October 1914). The government objected to articles entitled _'Military News' and 'The Fall of Antwerp', as well as a picture of Belgian troops under which appeared the Quranic verse: 'God was not-tyrannical to them, but they were tyrannical to themselves.' Azad was on tour when he heard of the forfeiture and the search of his office and sent a wire ordering the immediate publication of the number being printed. His comment was, 'We shall, with all our might ... continue al-Hila/ and, God willing, shall do so.' In the event, he was not able to do so. The security deposit had been paid more than a year earlier and, when it was declared forfeit, the government demanded a second deposit of Rs 10,000. Azad was forced to close the press. 16 • Azad recommenced operations a year later from a different 15

Mahadev Desai, Abu[ Kalam Azad, p. 38; cf. C.R. Cleveland, Director CID, Note re. objectionable articles in al-Hila/, 12 November 1914, Home (Pol) A, 178-204 and KW, February 1915, NAI . 16 Al-Hila/ 5 (20), 18 November 1914.


Abu[ Ka/am Azad

Calcutta address, under the new name of al-Balagh. In language and empl1asis it was clearly a continuation of al-Hila[, with the retigious tone, if anything, even more pronounced. Al-Balagh opened with a long fatiha in Arabic running for two issues, consisting of a series of qltotations from the Quran and hadith. Evidently, finances were a problem. The cover of the first issue advertised monthly instalments of Azad's translation of the Quran and his commentary thereon at Rs 6 and Rs 5 respectively. A good response to this prepublication offer at reduced prices would help the press in its 'severe material difficulties'. The paper managed to run until March 1916, when the government of Bengal expelled Azad from the province. Azad hoped to continue publication from Ranchi in Bihar, but al-Balagh ceased with the triple number 15-17 dated 17-31 March 1916, although he was not interned in Ranchi untilJuly. 17 Azad had earlier envisaged another periodical in Arabic, which could only have been designed for the ulama. He announced it as al-Bayan on the cover of al-Hila/ for 9 October 1912. Notices of the proposal continued to appear. Then, in August 1913, Azad announced that its name would be al-Basa'ir; it was to be a religious journal in Arabic dealing with the Quranic sciences and history. Two months later, another note explained its failure to appear as due to the local Puja holidays. Sulaiman Nadwi wrote scornfully, 'Why ask me about al-Basa'ir? Who will bring it out? It isn't al-Hila[, so that the magic of words will suffice for it.' It was, in fact, another of Azad's dreams that never came to anything. 18 Azad's outstanding success was limited to al-Hila[. Just as Azad had used the Italian attack on Tripoli and then the Balkan war, which were already stirring the passions of Muslims in India, to arouse Muslims against their imperialist rulers, so also 17 Azad,

Tazkira, intro. by Malik Ram, pp. 6-7; al-Balagh 1 (1), 12 Nov.

1915: 2-4, 4 alif and 4 be; (2), 26 Nov. 1915: 2~, and 6 alif. 18 Al-Hila/ 3 (8): 156; (9): 176; (15): 270: Sulaiman Nadwi to Abdul Majid Daryabadi, 26 October 1913, in Maktubat-e-Sulaimani, 1, p. 15; puja: worship; Hindu devotions honouring a deity; here, the local Puja holiday referred to is the Bengali festival of Durga Puja.


al-Hilal and Khilafat


he found an incident in India to serve the same purpose. The local authorities in the city of Kanpur, in a scheme for widening a road, had encroached on a corner of the courtyard of the Machli Bazaar Mosque. The first reference to the Kanpur mosque in alHilal was on 11 June 1913. It became a major issue in the journal for months, so much so that Shibli felt that Azad was dragging it out too long and advised him to get on with the main work of alHilal.19 A demonstration against the mu11icipality in Kanpur resulted in police firing, and the government reported fourteen or fifteen killed. Azad cited evi~ence supporting rumours that the casualties were much greater. His article 'The Site of Martyrdom', had a subtitle which revealed Azad's intention-'The Painful Sight of Edirne in Kanpur'. The fall of the Turkish town of Edirne (Adrianopolis) in the Balkan war had been the occasion for whipping up feeling against the hostile Christians. Now here was a comparable incident in India itself. Azad and his fellow Muslim journalists turned it into a confrontation between Islam and the government. Even after the disturbance had died down, a Kanpur Mosque Defence Association continued to function, with the objects of action in the courts, supporting the families of those killed, and helping those in jail. The chairman of the association was 'Maulana Abul KalamEditor, al-Hila/, Calcutta'. 20 The Kanpur mosque incid~nt is an excellent illustration of Azad's use of current events to arouse anti-British feelings. An event which he used with equal skill to accomplish his other purpose of building up Islamic pride was the visit of Rashid Rida to Lucknow in 1912. This visit inspired a long article running in the first three issues of al-Hila/, entitled 'The Great Refor111er and Wise Leader'. 21 Azad did not attempt to give an 19

Shibli, Makatib, 1, p. 285. 20 Al-Hilal 2 (23): 393-5; 3 (7): 120-3: (12): 221; (13): 229. For further accounts of the Kanpur mosque incident, see Minault, Khilafat Movement, pp. 46--8; Spencer Lavan, 'The Kanpur Mosque Incident of 1913: The North Indian Muslim Press and its Reaction to Community Crisis',Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 42, 2 Gune 1974): 263-79; Martin Yanuck, 'The Kanpur Mosque Affair of 1913 ', MW, 64, 4 (October 1974): 307-21. 21 Al-Hilal 1 (1): 4-5; (2): 6-7; (3): 7-8; this article is summarized in the


Abu/ Kalam Azad

account of the teachings of Rida in any detail. Although he could have done so, it would not have served the purposes of al-Hila/. When Rashid Rida addressed the assembly of the Nadwat ul-Ulama, Azad was assigned to translate his speech from Arabic into Urdu. Much to the embarrassment of Shibli and the others, Azad was missing during the long speech. When the time came for his Urdu translation, he duly appeared and gave a fluent version of what Rida had said. Malihabadi, who relates the incident, says that Azad explained to him, with a laugh, that he only needed to hear the beginning of the speech and he knew what was coming. The fact was that Azad had studied alM anar and Rashid Rida's writings thoroughly, and was thus acquainted with his thought. 22 In writing up the visit for al-Hila/, however, Azad dealt in generalities. His purpose was simply to use Rashid Rid a and his spiritual fore bears as examples of Islamic heroism in the path of truth, highlighting particularly their resistance to the orthodox ulama. Careful historical accounts and theological explanations would have been out of place. In his article, Azad writes that the Nadwat ul-Ulama had made up for tl1e silence of the previous three years by the conference it had just held. The movement on the banks of the Gomti, he says, was caused by the waves of the Nile. A traveller had come from Egypt, not as a military conqueror, but to influence the hearts of men through his love; not to revel in the glories of India, but to weep at the condition of the Muslims. Azad reminds his readers that al-Beruni had come to India in the fourth century AH, had studied the learning of the Hindus, and when he departed, the ground on which he had sat was washed by those same Hindus in order to purify it. Then in the eighth century AH came Ibn Battuta, when Muslims ruled in India, and the great city of Tughlaqabad was witness to their supremacy. Now, said Azad, Rashid Rida comes in a way very different from either of these past visitors. Delhi is now a graveyard of our past glories. Indian Muslims are isolated from the rest of the world. Arabic pages that follow. The article is illustrated with large photographs of the three reformers, Afghani, Abduh and Rida, captioned with grandiose titles. 22 Zikr, pp. 19-20.


al-Hilal and Khilafat


is the Esperanto of the Muslim world, but in India the time is not far off when the pronunciation of Allah and Quran will be that of English speakers. Azad then refers to the reform movements in the last half of the nineteenth century throughout the Muslim world, which began, he sc1ys, with the appearance of one man,Jamaluddin alAfghani, 'the greatest man in the last days of Islam'. Without staying long in one place, he created other 'Afghanis' and in Egypt he influenced Muhammad Abduh, who became a great reformer for all of the Arab world. He then continues with a description of Abduh's life and work, praising his devotion to Islamic learning as contrasted with the reformers of Turkey and India, and detailing his dissatisfaction with both the ulama and the European-influenced. He feared 'not the European suit nor hat, but the twists of the turbans of the ulama.' His death prevented his proposed visit to India and was a tragedy for the whole Muslim world. Then Azad introduces Rashid Rida, showing him to be a successor to Abduh and his party of reform. He started alManar in 1897, and during the fifteen years since then has shown himself to be a great re{ormer. He has proved that the autocratic rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II was, in the light of Islamic principles, a great sin. From early in 1906, Azad continues, Rida experienced a period of testing. The agents of the sultan harassed and imprisoned his father and two brothers in Tripoli. His father died in prison about the time of the death of Abduh. Similarly, Rida experienced opposition in Egypt from the ulama, especially from the teachers at al"'."Azhar, whom he attacked for n1isleading the people. Azad comments that the al-Azhar leaders are like the maulwis of India, except that the latter are poor, whereas t~e former are rich and powerful. Abduh had the backing of the Khedive and Lord Cromer, so he survived. Even then, says Azad, he had to start another Dar ul-Ulum, despairing of the reformation of al-Azhar. Azad describes Rashid Rida as a poor student from outside the privileged circle. His attacks on the ulama in al-Manar provoked the whole of al-Azhar into opposing him. Azad claims that he had a friend who was a student at ·al-Azhar at the time, who was present at a secret


Abul Kalam Azad

committee meeting which plotted Rashid Rida's assassination. But when Azad's friend inforn1ed the great man, he showed no co11cern for such threats. Azad comments that such heavenly souls who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of truth, though walking about, count themselves as already dead, and hence have no fear of the weapons of their enemies. This article has been summarized at some length because it illustrates Azad's objectives and metl1ods. Even a precis in English indicates something of his flowery prose. His concern is not for historical accuracy, but for emotional effect. The picture of unremitting hostility between Abduh and Rashid Rida on the one hand and the ulama of al-Azhar on the other is overdrawn. Abduh was able in his lifetime to do much for alAzhar, although at the end he did lose hope. Moreover, tl1ough he taught there as well as at al-Azhar, Abduh did not found the Dar ul-Ulum. Rashid Rida as the poor student from outside the privileged circle, and as the speaker captivating his audience with his love, are no.t altogether appropriate descriptions. And how seriously are we to take the story of the assassination plot? This is the way Azad used his pen to arouse Muslims to entl1usiasm for Islam. • The analysis of this leading article in the opening issues is one means of taking the measure of al-Hila/. Another is to consider the fatiha editorials with which Azad began each of the five six-monthly volumes of al-Hila/ and the one of alBalagh. In the fifth of these, Azad claims that every new volume has had a keynote editorial, and that if everything else "rere ignored, these alone would reveal the significance of al-Hilal. Actually, the main points which Azad gives as summarizing the earlier four fatiha editorials are not always as clear in the originals. His summary represents what Azad regarded as significant in his earlier volumes. He first repeats the Quranic prayer which, he says, has opened every volume: 0 Lord, in this journey which I have begun, take me to a better place.... Though I am weak, wilt Thou, by Thy favour and persistence, in the conflict between truth and falsehood, grant me victory.

This is no doubt in the spirit of the Quranic verse, but a transla-

al-Hilal and Khilafat


tion closer to the original would be: 'C~use me to come in with a firtn incoming ... give me from Thy presence a sustaining power' (Q 17:80). Azad is paraphrasing the Arabic and interpolating, so that the prayer can be adapted to the circumstances of al-Hilal's mission. This is typical of his handling of the Quran; its significance here is that, in this expression of dependence on God, 'the whole history of al-Hilal is hidden'. 23 The second volume, he sa}"S, began with the Quranic injunction of 'enjoining the good and forbidding tl1e evil' (amr b'il ma'ruf wa'l nahy 'an al-munkar) and carried the message that though we are weak, we shall be victorious. That was the summary that Azad gave in July 1914. The actual opening editorial to the second volume inJ·anuary 1913 had run in three issues. The prayer of Q 17 :80, as above, was repeated and the theme of' enjoining the good' was linked to historical developments. Azad attacked the 'obstinacy of the Umayyads' as 'the beginning o{ the closing of the door of amr b'il ma'ruf. They had, according to Azad, suppressed democracy witl1 the sword. In the succeeding Abbasid period, the true ulama had held fir 111ly to the conviction that God's word, as contained in the Quran, supported freedom, and hence should not be amended. One in particular, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780-855), had courageously cried 011t in Baghdad: 'The word of God sent down is uncreated.' With the Mongol invasion, in Azad's account, the evil ulama came to power. Borrowing a characteristic modern Arab idea found in Abduh, he sa}1 S that the Turks, having brought to an end the rule of the Arabs, were dependent for their spiritual guidance on those ulama whose only concern was to please their rulers. This, according to Azad, marked the death of 'enjoining the good', although, in spite of all this, God continued to preserve those faithful to Him. In the final 23

Al-Hila/ 5 (2): 30-2; (3): 49-52; (4): 69-72; in vol. 1, this prayer had not

been given as conspicuous a place as Azad suggests, but the Arabic verse was quoted at the end of the first paragraph, ibid. t (1): t. Quranic citations, except where noted, are from M. M. Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (New York: Mentor, 1953); they will appear parenthetically as (Q [Surah No.]: rverse No.l).


Abu/ Kalam Azad

insta~ment of the fatiha to the second volume, Azad had discussed jihad and amr bi'l ma'ruf, arguing that these were alternative terms for the same thing. Jihad, he said, was of three forms: war and killing, the giving of goods, and verbal proclamation. In fact, every action in defense of Islam was jihad fi sabil Allah (struggle in the way of God). In the final paragraph, he assured his readers that God would grant success. 24 Azad then summarized the fatiha of the third volume as showing that God chooses a few of His servants and opens their hearts for truth and guidance. He makes all their work His vlork. He gives them such strength that they have an authority like kings and can work without fear; no power can ha1111 them or obstruct the work God has given them. Legions of angels go with them; when they speak, the voice of the truth speaks; flames of divine light shine in their eyes. 25 Azad makes clear here in Urdu the intention of the third fatiha, which had appeared a year earlier in Arabic. It consisted almost entirely of a series of Quranic quotations which co11ld be interpreted as revealing God's selection of a small group of his faithful followers, and his special provision for them. Azad's message was cryptic but expressed a tentative hope that some of the ulama would respond to it. Some of the verses were: See how We prefer one above another, and verily the. Hereafter will be greater in degrees and greater in preferment (Q 17: 21 ). Who hear advice and follow the best thereof. Such are those whom Allah guideth, and such are men of understanding (Q 39: t 8).

No doubt Azad considered himself to be in the select category of those to whom these Quranic verses applied, and he invited the ulama to join him, if they could discern his message. In the second part of the fatiha, he summarized what had already appeared in the pages of al-Hila/ under various headings, saying that the sole object was the call to Muslims-and the refrain is repeated in large type. Al-Hilaf 2 (t): 3-7; (2): 20--1; (3): 37-9. 25 Ibid. 5 (2): 30--2.


al-Hilal and Khilafat


AMR BI'L MA'RUF WA NAHY 'AN AL-MUNKAR26 Finally, in his review of previous fatiha articles, Azad says that by the time of the fourth volume it is appropriate to repeat the beginning prayer, because in the previous year and a half God had abundantly fulfilled the objects for which al-Hilal had been founded. He then quotes Q 2: 186, 'I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he crieth unto Me', and adds, in an Urdu paraphrase, 'See with what gentleness and love I treat you., His prayer had been answered, he says, but this should not be regarded as anything unusual. 'Who among you does not have the conviction that the true and the good are always successful and the truth, whoever utters it, will meet with victory?' So his success, he modestly says, is no proof that he who summons to the truth is of any unusual status or excellence. 27 After this review .o f the four earlier fatiha editorials, Azad proceeds to that of the fifth volume, which considers in detail the success God grants to His friends, and the defeat of His opponents. It is entitled 'The Friends of God and the Friends of Satan', and consists of an elaboration of this two-fold division of mankind, with abundant Quranic illustration. His rendering of Q 41: 33 as 'And whoever says I am a Muslim' supports his final point that 't~1ose meant by the friends of God' are· not any special group, but include every true believer who has separated himself from satanic powers and obeys God and His Prophet. In the light of the later non-co-operation movement, with its call to resign from the service of the British and surrender any titles obtained from them, it is clear what Azad had in mind. The British are not yet specifically named,. He gives no clue as to the precise identity of the 'friends of satan', except that they are 'those who oppose the believers'. The obvious intention of the editorial, however, is to show that the lines are drawn and to summon the true believers to 'fight against the friends of satan'.


Ibid. 3 (1): 2; (2): 28-9. 27 Ibid. 5 (2): 32; the editorial that Azad here summarizes had appeared in January 1914: ibid. 4 (1-2): 4-8; and (3): 37-40.


Abu/ Kalam Azad

The sense of slaying or killing is clear in Azad's Urdu translation of the Quranic verse. 28 For Azad, then, the themes of the five opening editorials in the five volumes summarize the significance of al-Hila/. In brief, they are:

1. Complete dependence upon God. It is He who directs the development of the al-Hi/al movement and it is His power which will ensure success. 2. The responsibility of' enjoining the good and forbidding the evil', which is equivalent to 'jihad in the way of God' in its various for 111s, is incumbent upon all Muslims. 3. God in every age chooses a select few of His servants whom He endows with special powers for the accomplishing of His purposes. 4. The miraculous power, which has already been so amply demonstrated, is no special qualification of the agent (Azad), but lies in the divinely given seed (al-Hila/). 5. The lines a,e dr.awn and the Muslims, as 'the friends of God', must be ready to fight against those who oppose them, 'the friends of satan'. .

This summary demonstrates the original nature of Azad's vision. Inspired by men of God in every age, and not least by the prophets themselves, Azad was seeking to lead the Muslims of India in accordance with the demands of their contemporary situation. To suggest that he was borrowing someone else's thought, or copying someone else's plan, is an inadequate explanation for the growing messianic consciousness of the young Azad of al-Hilal. 29 THE HIZBULLAH

Azad' s messianic zeal -led him to consider his journal and its message as only a part of the larger movement he intended to lead. He knew something of the 'Party of tl1e People' (Hizb ulIbid. 5 (3): 49-52; (4): 69-72. Azad's Urdu translation ot the referenced verse uses qatl karo. 19 See, e.g. Aziz Ahmad, 'Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, 28

al-Hila! and Khilafat


Ummah) and the 'Partv of the Nation' (Hizb ul-Watan) fo1111ed in Egypt in 1907 by the followers of Abduh and of Kamil Pasha, respectively. 30 Now he was going to go one better then either of them . .(\zad wanted to found the 'party of God' (Hizbullah), with its name taken from the Quran itself (Q 58: 22). The first hint of this appeared in the issue of al-Hilal for 9-16 April 1913, when Azad commented on a letter he had received from a Lucknow barrister, Mushir Husain Qidwai. Claiming that Turkey was unable to defend Islam and that Mecca and Medina might be' attacked by Christians, Qidwai announced plans for an organization to be named the Anjuman-e-Khuddam-e-Ka'aba (Society of Servants of the Ka'aba). It was to be 'strictly religious, having nothing to do with politics', devoted to the service of hajj pilgrims. In the event of a threat to .the Ka'aba, however, it would be the basis of a defense orgaqization. Azad noted that he had been aware of these problems, had thought about all aspects of the matter, and had been given a solution by the mercy of God. Details would appear, he promised, in coming issues. In the mean time, Qidwai's letter was published by way of introduction. Later, Azad published further correspondence from Qidwai about the Khuddam-e-Ka'aba, commenting that his own scheme was more comprehensive. In fact, Qidwai launched his organization with the support of Muhammad Ali and his brother Shaukat, and their spiritual guide, Maulana Abdul Bari of Firangi Mahal, but Azad gave no effective backing to their efforts. 31 The first actual announcement of Azad's Hizbullah came on 23 April 1913 in an article with the title 'Al-Balagh' (The Trumpet Call), including the Quranic text: 'Answer the call of your Lord before there cometh to you from Allah a Day which there is no averting' (Q 42: 47). Against the background of Turkey's defeat and Muslim India', SI, 13 (1960): 74, who says that Azad modelled al-Hila/ on al-' Urwat al-Wuthqa. 30 But surely not very much----at least as far as the points at issue between the two parties were concerned. For he suggested, almost fatuously, that the questions that separated them could have been settled by religion. 31 Al-Hilal 2 (14-15): 235; (20): 343; cf. Minault, Khilafat Movement, pp. 35-7.


Abul Kalam Azad

in the Balkan War, Azad raises the eschatological cry. Alluding to the ascendancy of western military power, he says that the sun has risen in the West, and the door of repentance is being closed. 32 Now is the time for action. He poses a question in bold type: MAN ANSARI 'ALA ALLAH (Who are my helpers on the way to God?) and adds in Urdu, 'Is there anyone therefore ready to go.with me? He invites readers to send postcards so that he can prepare a list of mujahidin-e-haqq (warriors for the truth) and jan nisaran-e-millat (those ready to give their lives.for the people). The call, he says, is to suffering and not to ease. After a week he announced that 800 names had already been received, that application blanks were being sent with the current issue, and that after another week the 'second stage' would be announced. After two weeks the only further announcement was that some readers had complained about the shortage of application blanks. Others wer~ being printed in books of twenty-five, along with a tract entitled 'The Invitation and the Preaching'. A week later came a notice that the tract and the fo1111s were being printed separately and would be sent upon request. 33 On 28 May 1913, under the heading 'The Hizbullah and Muslim Women', Azad revealed some of his ideas. A woman correspondent had ·asked if women were to be included in the Hizbullah. Azad thanked her for her letter and said: The call to be helpers of God is nothing other than that Muslims be true Muslims, and a group be created that will be an example in all their actions of the self-sacrificing and soldierly obedience enjoined by Islamic teaching. Resisting distractions from all sides, they will submit their lives·to God alone.

In this call, Azad says there is no distinction between men and • women: In order to bring about changes in us today, an absolutely fundamental principle is that change take place within our homes, and that our women remind us of that voice which we hear outside our homes and, unfortunately, forget. There remains the question of purdah [which she 32

One of the signs ot the judgement day in Muslim tradition. 33 Al-Hila/ 2 (16): 255-8; (17): 276; (19): 313; (20): 335.

al-Hilal and Khilafat


had mentioned]. It is not related to our point here. Every child of God, remaining in his own place, can meet God. There is no need for him or her to go out. 3•

From this it is clear that Azad was thinking simply in ter111s of a movement for the revival of personal Islam. Further details were tantalizingly slow in coming. After another week he noted that God would reward those who had responded on hearing 'a vague and abridged invitation'. They had 'passed the first-stage examination and proven themselves ready to pass subsequent stages'. Giving their support in this way, 'amidst many dangers and anxieties', their rewards would be greater than that of the many who would come forward 'when the aims and objectives are published'. This pamphlet was being printed and, 'God willing', would be sent out after 15 June. Printing was delayed because the article had become very long. Two weeks later he announced an amended plan. Instead of the pamphlet, the details and objectives of the Hizbullah would be introduced in articles in al-Hila/. Separate publication would be delayed until they were completed. 35 This repeated delay gives the impression that Azad was playing for time. Qidwai had probably forced his hand. Azad had to produce his plans if he was not to be forestalled by the other organization. Yet he had no plans for a modern-style public society. Such would be inappropriate for a movement in spiritual succession to the prophets. He was waiting for God to act. All he knew how to do in anticipation was to offer a long peroration. Two months. after his first announcement of the Hizbullah, the first part of the long-promised article on its aims and objectives appeared. It ran in three successive issues-and ended without mentioning any specific aims or objectives. The first part denied the need for a big fund or organization to protect the Ka'aba-an allusion to Qidwai's Anjuman-e-Khuddam-e-Ka'aba-and continued in a very general vein about the work of God in creation and in the hearts of men, especially emphasizing the 34

Ibid. 2 (21): 367. lS Ibid. 2 (22): 373-4; (24): 413.


Abu/ Kalam Azad

miracle of the seed which becomes a plant. 'Our V{ork must insure the future of the Muslims of the world.' 36 The next week he continued on the subject of Quranic references to the signs of changes of season, rain and fruitfulness, which he admits appear to have no connection with the aims and objectives of the Hizbullah. But God teaches through parables, and these signs in nature illustrate man's spiritual life and death, the rise a11d fall of nations, different stages of God's guidance and man's hardheartedness. Thus, he claims, however unconnected it may seem, this parable actually contains everything. The period of revelation must be preceded by preparedness. Cutting the harvest is easy. What counts is sowing the seed. In the life of nations, the signs of potentiality for evolution and life, the stirrings of revolution, must be recognized. Difficulties and sorrows awaken dormant powers. There is a strengthening of understanding and faith throughot1t the commltnity. Whe.n that time comes, all tl1at will be needed is the hand to place the appropriate seed in the prepared earth. The 'seed' for such a time as this, he argues, is the call to reform and action. Is the seed an organization with many branches? A fund with lots of rupees? An office with many signatures on an agreement or contract? A magnificent scheme with countless clauses? An association of office-bearers with many titles ... ? A pretentious claim including outstanding actions and the needs of all the world with hundreds of all-comprehensive promises? No! Because all these things can be brought forth by the seed within minutes and seconds. But they, in turn, cannot produce the seed! 37

Having thus dismissed tl1e claims of any plan other than his own, he asks and dramatically answers the question: 'Then what is it?' I then speak, being i11 all of my physical form a divine voice (sada-erabbani), and having that imperishable strength of conviction which never passes away. Wheri that divine vision is present in my heart, wherein there is rtc,,er wavering or doubt, and that assured witness is Ibid. 2 (25): 436-40. 37 Ibid. 3 (1 ) : 4-8.


al-Hilal and Khilafat


before me which can never tolerate deception, that holy seed for multiplied life and success can.not be any society, any scheme, any uncountable treasury, any defense agreement, any covenant of service, in short cannot be any voice of this world or any human plan. But

THERE IS ONLY ONE MOVEMENT OF REALITY AND TRUTH WHICH CAN GIVE THE CALL TO MUSLIMS, IN EVERY BRANCH OF THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND COMMUNAL LIFE, TO BECOME TRULY MUSLIM and make its sound go deep into tl1e heart of all, great and small, men and women, noble and despised, urban and rural, aristocracy and con1mon man, in short in every individual of the co1n1nt1nity, in such a way that the servants of God once again become totally His. 38

After this there seems little need for him to say what that 'one movement of truth and reality' is. It is small wonder that, with such a vision of the significance of his Hizbullah, albeit still not clearly defined, he found intolerable the idea of any other plan. Azad calls the Muslims to 'put on the yoke of God's exclusive slavery' and then 'make the whole world tl1eir slaves'. If they will bow once again at God's threshold, they v.,ill be 'exalted above all' and will 'see all in prostration before them'. He has no mear1 estimate of the voice which issues the call.. It is not a human voice, but 'the voice of divine guidanc·e'. He continues in this vein, in increasingly flowery language, then comes back to a paragraph headed 'In Plain Words', in which the same ideas are repeated in less pretentious Urdu; but soon, however, he is carried away by his poetic eloquence. Men, he says, should become themselves an embodiment of the call before calling others to God. Finally he quotes a tradition from Bukhari: When I make any servant of mine my beloved, I become his ears; he hears with my ears. I become his eyes; he sees with my e}·es. I become his feet; he walks with my feet. I become his tongue; he speaks with my tongue. Then whatever he asks, I grant. And when he turns to me, I protect him. 39 38

Ibid. 39 Ibid.


Abu/ Kalam Azad

The third instalment of this very long article, supposedly on the aims and objectiv~s of the Hizbullah, m~kes yet another insinuation against the Khuddam-e-Ka'aba. There is no need, he says, for any such organization, since we are concerned with service to the world and not service to the Ka'aba. Then Azad quotes various Quranic verses from which such points as the following are derived: Enjoining the good (amr bi'l ma'ruf) is for all Muslims; they are 'the best people'; jihad represents a world responsibility. All of this, of course, he had said before. 40 Azad's long, drawn-out presentation of the aims and objectives of the·Hizbullah never did take precise forn1. It seems that Azad still had nothing more specific in mind than the general call to a revival of true Islam which he had already given in the pag_es of al-Hila/. Dedicated volunteers were supposed to rally to his call and through them, in some way or other, God would do the work of revival. In Azad's metaphorical language, God would perform the miracle of making the seed grow. After all this, Azad says nothing further about tl1e Hizbullah for another five months, with two partial exceptions. First is a relatively shon article with the same title promising much: 'Aims and Objectives of the Congregation of the Party Qf God', but which, in fact, offers no further details..Of interest, however, is a footnote to the article drawing attention to a coincidence which was apparently, to Azad, a special sign of divine favour. That is, the Quranic verse from which the name Hizbullah was derived (Q 58: 22) was, according to the abjad numbering system, numbered 133 t, and that was the same as the current year, 133 t AH, when ·t he Hizbullah was founded·.•• The second reference to the Hizbullah in this five-month interval is in an article featured in a supplement: 'The Day of Hajj and the Party of God'. This article repeats the previous points about following the prophets and that amr bi'l ma'ruf is the sole object of the Hizbullah. 42 Writing to Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi early 1914, Azad



◄ 0 Ibid. 3 (1): 14-16; (2): 24-7.

Ibid. 3 (3), 2 September 1913: 233-5; abjad: a numbering system based on the numerical values assigned to the letters of the Arabic alphabet. 42 Ibid. 3 (20), 12 November 1913: pp. numberedalif, be,pe, etc. 41

al-Hilal and Khilafat


revealed why, after all the fanfare with which he had introduced his Hizbullah, he had done nnthing further about it during this long interval. The truth was that he had been carried away by his sense of compulsion and his enthusiastic nature and had afterwards been overcome by a realization of his unworthiness for the great scheme he had announced. Then in his meditations during the month of hajj, he rededicated his life and felt empowered to go on. He reported that he had made the final announcement about Hizbullah and the work had commenced. 43 Exactly what did this amount to? In al-Hila/ of 3 December 1913, there appeared the long-promised 'practical constitution' of the Hizbullah, after which the next notice was not until July 1914. The December article illustrates what Azad regarded as a practical constitution. 44 The preamble repeats yet again 'the sole object', with an-interesting new description of the congregation as 'those whom the divine tongue has described by their degree of fellowship (ma'iyat)'. The constitution itself is elaborated in a four-page supplement, and consists of a complicated exegesis of Q 9: 112. Azad comments: The Almighty God has, in this blessed verse, described eight qualities which should be in believers, or eight kinds of stages in which everyone is higher and more perfect than the previous one, and.this will be the working constitution and method of operation of this organization. See letter to Sulaiman Nadwi in the appendix to this chapter. The evidence of this letter disproves Mushir ul-Haq's theory that the months of silence indicate a secret revolutionary organization after the pattern of the Bengal revolutionary groups with which Azad had supposedly been associated in 1906-7. He supports his case by associating Azad's 1913 Hizbull~ with his later practice of taking bai'at (sufi vow of discipleship) from his personal followers. But the evidence of the latter is from 1920-1 after his release from internment in Ranchi. Mushir ul-Haq, Muslim Politics, pp. 90-3; cf. Ziler, pp. 22, 24-7; Ghulam Rasul Mihr, ed., Naqsh-e-Azad (Lahore: Kitab Manzil, 1959), pp. 3-13-5. Bedar, in Aud, p. 53, also telescopes events: the founding of the . .Hizb,11Jah, the establishing of the Dar ul-Irshad for training, and the taking of bai'a~ as if the three were simultaneous and part of a well-organized and integrated operation. In fact, these three events are distinct and date from 1913, 1915, and 1920-1. 44 Al-HiLJ3 (23): 417-20, and four-page supplement. 43


Abu/ Kalam Azad

The verse in its Quranic context is simply a description, in a series of clauses, of the believers who triumph. With Azad's numbering inserted, they read as follows: 1. Those who turn repentant {to Allah) 2. Those who serve (Him) 3. Those who praise (Him) 4. Those who fast 5. Those who bow down 6. Those who fall-prostrate (in worship) 7. Those who enjoin the right and forbid the wrong 8. Those who keep the limits (ordained) of Allah

Azad gives a detailed description of each of these categories, attempting to rank them in ascending order. This necessarily involves certain artificialities in order to make them fit his scherne. For exarr1ple, Azad pays greater attention to the fourth than to the others, because he interprets 'those who fast' (sa'ihuna) to mean 'those who forsake home and country, and travel for the love of God, giving the invitation of God', since he wants to emphasize his emerging idea of a band of travelling teachers and preachers as integral to his Hizbullah vision. 45 As would be expected, Azad waxes eloquent when he comes to the seventh category with its familiar reference to 'enjoining the good and forbidding the evil' (amr bi'l ma'ruf... ): Truly this is the highest rank in Islam ... of the special work of prophethood and righteousness ... this is the divine work, the doer of which is called a friend of God in heaven and on earth, whose works prove him to be like prophets and apostles.... Praise be to God that the holy favour of ... the announcement and invitation of this stage is especially granted to this unworthy one....

Evidently, after the period of despondency which he confessed to Sulaiman Nadwi, Azad has now recovered his self-confidence 45

Editorial note: While it is true that Pickthall translates the Arabic word sa'ihuna as 'those who fast', Azad's rendering of this term as 'those who forsake home and cou11try and travel for the love of God ... ' is probably the more exact rendering. Cf. Muhammad Asad's explanation of this phrase in The Message of the Quran (Gibraltar: Darul Andalus, 1980), p. 282.

al-Hilal and Khilafat


and his faith in God's special call to him to fulfil a particular • • m1ss1on. Seeing that there are eight phrases in· the Quranic text, and the last one comes after amr bi'l ma'ruf, Azad has to present a still higher category than that one, which he had always presented in al-Hila/ as the supreme responsibility of ~1uslims. So here he introduces a new idea, although he had adumbrated it in his July 1913 fatiha editorial, suggesting a select category of believers especially endowed with angelic power and divine authority. The eighth category, 'those who keep the limits (ordained) of J\llah ', he now says are the highest order of all, the last link in the chain. These God will make His representati\"es (khalifa) in this world. Azad here has in mind the actual government of the people. He likens the chosen few to authoritative kings and rulers 'responsible in the world for the establishment of a true divine law and the administration of justice and peace ... the strict rules and regulations which Almighty God has appointed for ... the protection of the rights of peoples and nations., God always chooses His own groups for this service and makes them His representatives, so that they can make this world glorify His attributes. However unclear Azad may be as to the means of bringing all this about, he clearly envisages that a chosen few among Muslims will establish the rule of God, not only in India, but in the whole world. Then the scheme becomes shrouded in mystery again. Not satisfied with his neat eight-fold division, he now proceeds to superimpose another three-fold division. He takes this from Q 35: 32, a verse which speaks of categories among God's chosen servants to whom the book has been given as a heritage. Some wrong themselves; some take a middle course; and some outstrip others in good deeds. All Azad seems to have borrowed from the text is the division into three. There is no exact parallel between these Quranic categories and his 'three ranks of Hizbullah'. Moreover, Azad describes the first two divisions very generally; only the third division seems to be the 'Party of God'. He speaks of graduation by a process of selection from the first to the second rank, and similarly from the second to the third, but gives no


Abu/ Kalam Azad

details as to who does the selection and how. It ~s the third rank, he says, which will be the 'essence of the Hizbullah ... and its real controlling group'. They will also be synonymous with 'those who keep the limits of Allah', who were the highest order in the eight-fold division. Whatever work God wants to take from them, Azad says, He will take, anq to whatever purposes He will ·d raw them, they will be drawn. Their final goal cannot at this time be told, nor can it be fixed. The person (salik) who has advanced beyond the first two stages to reach the third will himself become acquainted with the secrets there. Before that, he ·says, the conditions of that place cannot be revealed to anyone. It is not permissible for any member of the congregation to seek their disclosure, or to find them out before the time. The·implication is that Azad himself does not know where God will lead the chosen few. It is significant, however, that he uses the te1·111 salik, the traveller on the mystic way, for the person who has reached the third stage. This suggests a goal which can only be attained at the end of a spiritual pilgrimage. This is not the picture of a secret Masonic-type order, or of a revolutionary organization with tight security, but of a spiritual brotherhood following a mystical path to esoteric knowledge. The way will become clear only to those who qualify. The way cannot be delineated in advance, nor can anyone say exactly what God will do to those who arrive. The sufi precedent is quite clear. Azad, in this article, hoped to satisfy those who were demanding a detailed explanation of the aims and objectives of the 'Party of God'. More than this he himself did not know. For another seven months, no further reference to the Hizbullah appears in the pages of al-Hila/, and then, in July 1914, a note mentions that the preachers of the Hizbullah will travel without asking alms. They must be ready for sacrificial living. They will preach and teach and correct the false ideas of hoth the western-educated and the religious. They will serve the community in such ways as teaching children and caring for the sick. They will forsake human ties and loved ones for the sake of service to Islam, and they must be prepared to remain


• '


al-Hilal and Khilafat


for some years in each place. What they teach will be in accordance with 'the call of al-Hilal'. The note comments that men cannot be changed merely by teaching. Hence God's law was not enough; the manifestation and ministry of the prophets was needed. Similarly today, he says, lecturi_n g is not sufficient. The ministry of the Hizbullah teachers, therefore, will not be simply itinerant preaching but protracted periods of servic~. This announcement is signed 'Faqir Abul Kalam', a designation which shows that the sufi orders, rather than revolutionary political parties, are Azad' s inspiration and organizational model. 46 In the same month, July 1914, al-Hilal contained a news item concerning the work of the Hizbullah. The foundationstone was laid for its headquarters, on land outside Calcutta donated by one of his father's disciples. The building plans envisaged three structures, the first of which would be the lecture hall for the Dar ul-Irshad: the training centre for Hizbullah teachers. Azad's personal library was to be housed in the lecture hall. There would also be a mosque and living quarters for 'several hundred at one time'~ 47 This was· another grandiose plan that · came to naught. Al-Hilal ceased publication four months later, so Azad's editorial work was no longer a hindrance to his spending time outside of Calcutta with the Hizbullah workers, or to his teaching at the Dar ul-Irshad. There is no evidence, however, that the visio11 of dedicated men serving throughout the country was ever fulfilled. In October 1915, fifteen months after the laying of the fou11dation-stone, the work of the Dar ul-Irshad began with daily Quran lessons in a rented house in the European quarter of Calcutta. The lecture hall had been erected, but it could not be used until another Rs 10,000-15,000 was found for the · construction of the student hostel. When the first number of al-Balagh came out in November 1915, it announced that other subjects would soon be offered, and that Azad would 46

Al-Hila/ 5 (2): 28-9.


Ibid. 5 (5): 89--92.


Abul Kalam Azad

devote half of his time to this teaching work, and daily time also to hi'> translation of the Quran. In Azad's mind at least, the Dar ul-Irshad continued to have a very important place. Having failed to get Sulaiman Nadwi to take over the editi11:g of al-.1/ilal, Azad made a similar offer to him in December 1915, to edit alBalagh entirely on his own, so that Azad could be free for his other work. N adwi also declined this offer. Then, in March 1916, when his expulsion from Bengal was imminent, Azad again wrote to Sulaiman Nadwi, begging him to see thatal-Balagh was somehow or other continued as a religious journal, saying that there was no need to write anything dangerous or express ai1y opinion about the war. An even more important matter than this, he wrote, was the continuation of the work of the Dar ul-Irshad. He greatly regretted the delay in starti11g it and the fact that the buildings vlere not finished. He pleaded with N adwi to see that teaching was continued, based on the Quran and sound prophetic traditions. In spite of this, when Azad left Calcutta for Ranchi, where he was to be interned for three and a half years, not only al-Balagh, but what there was of the Dar ul-Irshad came to an end, and with it, all there ever had been of the I-Iizbullah. 48 As an idea, the Hizbullah was visionary arid impracticable. Azad had been writing about it, off and on, for three years, but he simply did not have the organizing ability to match the power of his pen. Sulaiman N adwi was rigl1t as far as the Hizbullah was concerned, when he wrote: 'The work of al-Hila/ will never move out of the realm of imagination into the realm of practical action. ' 49 Another six years were to pass before Azad revised his attitude towards modem political structures, and abandoned his idea that God would give him a position of prophetic leadership, on the pattern of a sufi ref01111er, from which everything else would follow. A/-Balagh 1 (1), 12 November 1915: inside cover; Ghulam Rasul Mihr, ed., Tabarrukat-e-Azad (Delhi: Adabi Dunya, 1963), pp. 110--11; Maktubat-eSulaimani, 1, p. 48. 48


Sulaiman Nadwi to Abdul Majid Daryabadi, 26 January 1915, in

Maktubat-e-.5ulaimani, 1, p. 37.


al-Hilal and Khilafat



Altbough Azad wanted al-Hila/ to be preparatory to his larger movement, and in this he failed, nevertheless the great accomplishment of the journal remains. A careful analysis of some of the emphases in his writing will help evaluate his effectiveness in changing Muslim attitudes. (1) 'Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil': This Quranic phrase figured prominently in the fatiha editorials · which Azad regarded as keys to understanding the message of al-Hila/, and in his elaboration of the 'constitution' of the Hizbullah. But references to the phrase are b},. no means limited to these passages in al-Hila/. It is a constantly reiterated theme. Azad quotes a fatwa of a Shaikh ul-Islam in Tunis, in which this obligation is called the 'mother of principles' (umm al-usul) of Islamic law. It may be that when he first read this fatwa, he realized the fundamental importance of this phrase. But, as with other ideas Azad emphasizes, what matters is not the source where he first found it, but the use which he makes of it.so Azad's main contention is that this divinely-given dut}'- is incumbent upon all Muslims. This he bases on three Quranic verses: Ye are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; a11d ye believe in Allah (Q 3: 110). And there may spring from (among) you a nation who invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are st1ccessful (Q 3: 104 ). Thus we have appointed you a middle natio11 (Q 2: 143); (Rodwell, Q 2: 137, 'intermediate, or not addicted to excess, just').

In support of his contention that this is a general co1nmand, Azad quotes Fakhruddin al-Razi (1149-1210), the author of so From an article by Sir Richard Wood, formerly of Tunis, entitled 'Islam and Reform', first published in 1878 and translated into Urdu by Azad in a/Hila/ 1 (18): 9.



Abu/ Kalam Azad

the monumental commentary, Mafatih al-Ghaib. First of all, al-ma 'ruf and al-munkar, by the use of the article, emphasize that these are not limited to any particular good or evil but refer to good and evil generally, in all circumstances. Secondly, whereas many commentators have skirted the issue by arguing about whether this refers to the last day or now, al-Razi clarifies the issue by giving his personal opinion that it refers to the present. In fact, Azad says, God has appointed Muslims for this work. En joining the good and forbidding the evil are synonymous with witnessing to, or establishing 'adl, which means moderation, or the negation of extremes, like the· pointer on a true balance indicating the exact middle, and by extension; jus• t1ce. Azad then turns to the apparent contradiction between the first two verses, one referring to all Muslims and the o~her to a select grou·p . The ulama, he says, have taken this apparently restrictive verse as applying to them, and have thus brought the greatest possible harm to Muslims in the course of 1300 years. Four hundred million Muslims, the children of God, are thus ensnared and kept from their great work by a false idea. It was for this very reason, he says, that God removed the glory from David's temple and made the Ka'aba his house. He forsook Israel and chose the Muslims. But now the Muslim ulama have made the same mistake as the Hindu Brahmins and Roman Catholic fathers, and have relegated to themselves divine authority to the exclusion of others. Ordinary Muslims have acquiesced in this and relinquished their responsibility. Azad argues that 'from among you' does not exclude anyone. The first verse makes it clear that the intention is to include everyone. The second verse is thus a case of clarification and explanation, not subdivision. Azad's reasoning here gives the inescapable impression that he starts with the deter111ination to prove that the ulama have no right to arrogate to.themselves the authority of enjoying the good (amr bi'l ma'ruf). The meaning of 'from among you' seems obvious, and there is no inherent reason why this should not ·apply to a restricted group. Azad himself has a theory of a select group among Muslims who have a



ll I





al-Hilal and Khilafat


specially-appointed task, but on no account will he have this equated with the ulama, whose hold on the Muslims of India he is trying to break. So his device is to place this debatable verse between two others which clearly say something about all Muslims, and explain the restrictive verse by the inclusive ones. Azad is also able to quote another verse, however, where there is no need to resort to forced exegesis: Allah helpeth one who helpeth Him .... Those who, if We give them pow!!r in the land, establish worship and pay the poor-due and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity (Q 22: 40-1).

Here there is a clear association of amr b'il ma'ruf with the two pillars of the faith, prayer and almsgiving, which frequently occur together as obligations upon all Muslirns. So here Azad can make comments which are both lucid and fair to the text: Muslims are made victorious in the world in order to perfor111 good works; these works include prayers, alms giving, and the enjoining and forbidding; all these are compulsory for all Muslims ..It would have been better if he had buil~ his case on this verse alone. His exegesis of this key passage has been dis- · cussed at some length, to show how he draws upon arguments of varying validity in order to. prove his point. ·This is characteristic of Azad's way of using the Quran. 51 · Enjoining the good is referred to in many other places in al-Hilal. In al-Balagh, it is denoted by a technical philosophical terrn: falsafa-e-ihtisab {the philosophy of evaluation). In other words, the Muslims are God's people for the judging or evaluation of others in the world. A desirable goal seems to be presented here as an absolute status. 52 This illustrates an ever-present danger in al-Hilal and its successor: They revive Muslims' belief that they are the chosen of God, but 'such supretne self-regard is hardly conducive to any spiritual reform or self-purification. ' 53 AI-Hilal 1 (6): 4-8. Al-Balagh 1 (2): 15-19, 'Falsafa-e-Ihtisab: Amr bi'l Ma'ruf wa nahy 'an al-Munkar'. 53 Ikram, Modern Muslim India, p. 139; Azad himself warns against this danger in Tazkira, pp. 71-3. SI 52

Abu/ Kalam Azad


(2) Democracy and Leadership: The natural corollary of the idea that 'enjoining and forbidding' as the right of all Muslims is that, within the community, ultimate judicial authority rests with the people. No individuals can have authority which is not dependent on the people. Azad says that this situation prevailed in the early days of Islam until the Umayyads 'suppressed dernocracy with the sword'. He further blames the Mongol invasions for putting an end to amr bi'l ma'ruf by the people, because of the new rulers' dependence upon the ulama for religious guidance. 54 This is similar to the situation among Jews and Christians, Azad says, where the rabbis and priests control the function of enjoining and pe_rmitting: No individual among the people had the right to consider any matter for himself on the basis of personal thought ... and decide for himself his faith and practice. As the Quran says: 'They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks' (Q 9: 31).

The Prophet, in the traditions that Azad quotes, noted that the right of permitting and forbidding was the prer0gative of G·od alone, but the religious leaders of the Jews and Christians took it upon the1nselves. Azad goes on to say that tl1is monkish control continued until the time of Luther, and it still persists among Roman Catholic Christians. Now the ulama are taking on the same role, 'as if the Quran and hadith, like the holy books of the Hindus, ca1ne down only for the understanding of the pundits ... this is the disease of taqlid and the closing of the door of ijtihad. ' 55 These arguments had been standard among reform-minded Muslims in India since Shah Waliullah, and among Arab Muslims also, at least since Afghani and Abduh. Azad's distinctive emphasis is his attack, not so much on the authorities of the past, as on those who assume authority in the present. He goes on to criticize 11ot only the ulama, but also the new western-educated leadership. Previously, he says, it was the ulama who were guilty of claiming the exclusive right to ijtihad. But more recently, 54

See discussion of the fatiha in al-Hila[ 2 (1): ~ ; (2): 20-1, above.

ss Al-Hi/al 1 (12): 5.

al-Hilal and Khilafat


westemized leaders have attempted to seize this right. At least it could be said of the ulama that their authority was limited to religion, but now those of tl1e 'frock coat and Turkish cap' have taken on authority without any such limitation. The programme of al-Hila/, Azad says, will break this. 56 Azad does not mean that there should be no leadership at all in the Muslim community. In fact, the need for a properly qualified imam was something he had recognized from the beginning, and was a point he emphasized increasingly during this period of his life. The imam, however, must rule in association with all the people. He quotes the Shaikh ul-Islam of Tunis: The shari'a has attached the condition to all the commands of the imam that they be in the public interest .... From this follows that criticism is permissible and counsel is essential .... If among the [non-Muslim] protected people there are dependable persons whose knowledge, honesty, motives, and selfless service can be relied upon, the imam cannot exclude them fr~m the governing body. 57

The Muslim League was one target of Azad's attack for what he regarded as its lack of democracy. He resented the fact that it was under the control of a few rich Muslims and thus was losing the opportunity of ihannelling the enthusiasm of the whole Muslim comn1unity. He expressed disappointment that the announced 'political conference' under the auspices of the council of the All-India Muslim League had been changed into a special meeting of the council only. Azad called for an open conference involving the entire Muslim community. Over time, Azad favourably noted changes in the Muslim League: Son1e mernbers, he said, were dedicated to freedom, and 'adherents of Aligarh' were beginning to espouse tl1oughts they had previously associated with those they deerned 'enemies of Aligarh'. But he continued to criticize the League for its loyalism to the British, its rich leaders such as the Agha Khan, and the dictatorial attitude of Sayyid Amir Ali in London. 58 56

Ibid.; the frock coat and fez were the uniform of Aligarh College. 57 Ibid. t (18):9. ss Ibid. 1 (2): ~ ; (23): 2, 5-11; 3 (24): 439--40. Amir Ali headed the London



Abul Kalam Azad

On.the same theme of democracy in Islam, Azad raised the question whether Muslims were simply adopting ideas from the French revolution and modern European thought, or whether the Quran itself taught democracy and the parliamentary system. He quotes European writers who say that all religious books can be interpreted, and so Muslim reformers find verses in the Quran to support constitutional government, ~quality and freedom. They thus present Islam as the source of these ideas, particularly the saying of the Prophet: 'In your affairs take counsel with one another.' But in reality, according to these Europeans, all these ideas are new to Islam and borrowed from Europe. In quoting these challenging claims, Azad did not respond at first, but left the question open. 59 In a later article, however, he makes his views clear. The Prophet, he claims, came at a time when human rulers were virtually worshipped and he introduced a new system of democracy. Modem political writings, dating from the French revolution in the eighteenth century, offer no advance over the teaching of Islam. He lists five basic principles of the French revolution and claims that every one of them had already been present in Islam for centuries:

1. Sovereignty is vested in the people and is not personal or hereditary. 2. All are equal. 3. The president of the country, in Islamic ter111s the imam or khalifa, is appointed by the people. He has no essential superiority over other citizens. 4. All decisions [of the president] must be made in consultation with able councillors. 5. The treasury is the property of the people. The president may not spend it without authority. 60 In this early emphasis on democracy, Azad is concerned branch ot the Muslim League and wanted to set policy for the League as a ·whole; cf. Minault, Khilafat Movement, pp. 48-50. s9 Al-Hila/ 1 (2): s-6. 60 Ibid. 3 (1): 9-11.



'l I C

al-Hilal and Khila(at •


by what he regards as the slavish submission of Muslims to authority, whether to orthodox religious leaders, or to the new western-educated products. As his own status increased and he came to think more definitely of himself as the imam, he remained loyal to these principles which l1e had enunciated as being Islamic. It was partly because of these fundamental principles that he later dropped his personal ambition to be the imam of Indian Muslims. In the beginning of the al-Hila/ years, therefore, Azad was preoccupied with dethroning false leadership based on hereditary religious status or on western education, and with proclaiming Islamic democracy which forbade autocratic personal rule. True leadership must be by the will of the entire community and in consultation with them. That much he made clear. But who were those leaders? On this he was not clear. When a correspondent said that the programme of al-Hila/ could not be carried out without a leader, and asked who that leader might be, Azad hedged by saying that the Quran was the leader. 61 · The logical result of Azad's position-of basing everything on Islam and looking to the Quran for guidance was that human leadership should come from those well-versed in Islam and the teachings of the Quran. This would point to the ulama, provided they were refo1111ed along the lines that Azad indicated. He quotes al-'Urwat al-Wutl,qa on the need for religious revival to begin with the ulama, and there is evidence that he regarded the ulama in India as the potential political leaders. 62 His criticism of them for obscurantism and stagnation was aimed at stirring them to become involved in.politics. Through al-Hilal,·Azad hoped that the ulama could be activated. Since, however, he could not count~nance the ulama as leaders as they then were, and he quite definitelyrejected the leadership of the western-educated, he was accused of wanting to be the leader himself. lhis he denied. 63 61

Ibid. 1 {14): 6; for a discussion of Azad and the imamat, see the last section of this ·chapter and the beginning of Chapter 111.· 62 The journal published in Paris in the mid 1880s by Afghani and Abduh. 63 Al-HiLll 1 (4): 4; {13): 3; {14): 2; also a long anicle, 'Musulmanon ki


Abul Kalam Azad

Early in the career of al-Hilal, Azad was, on the contrary, very conscious of his own unworthiness for the great tasks to be done, and at times he felt he could not go on. On the front page of the paper for 1 September 1912, he confided to his public: My mind is under control but not my heart. This was my previous condition, but since the publication of al-Hila/, it grows worse daily. When I look within my heart it seems to be as dark with sin as ever. But there is no wavering in my resolve. Then why this condition? Perhaps for the reason that the service of the great God and His truth is far beyond my unworthy tongue and pen. For this reason I get no leisure time. [Persian couplet]: He who is unworthy of union [wisal] with God, All his acts of obedience are sins. I seek nothing from my friends. I have just one request, that they do not forget in their prayers this unworthy one. After years of selfindulgence and forgetting God, three years ago I fell at His door finally and thought that He was reconciled to me. Now I find that the door is still closed. Perhaps the prayers of my friends will have some effect. 6"




As the work of al-Hilal went on, such genuine humility is less and less apparent. Azad seemed to write with supreme selfconfidence. The evidence concerning the Hizbullah is that he was not sure himself how it was going to develop, but he undoubtedly saw himself as the supreme leader of the movement. It is not surprising that, when Sulaiman N adwi finally responded to Azad's pleadings and frankly gave his reasons for not wanting to work with him, among his complaints were thatal-Hilal amounted to a claim to imamat, preoccupation with self, and pretention; and that the Hizbullah was nothing short of selfglorification. Azad seems to have been mystified by his charges against al-Hila/, and solemnly invoked the curse of God if the intention of the Hizbullah had been anything of the kind. 65 A'inda Shahrah-e-Maqsud Kya Hona Chahiye?' in ibid. 1 (13): S-8; (14): ►7; (15) ►7; (16): 5-8; and an anicle on 'Al-Hila/ and the Nadwa Problem' in ibid. 4 (6); cf. Mushir ul-Haq, Muslim Politics, p. 86. 64 Al-Hilal 1 (8): 1. 65 Daryabadi, ed. Maletubat-e-Sulaimani 1, pp. 18-27; see also the appendix


al-Hilal and Khilafat


The inability to see one's own egotism, even when it is obvious to others, is a frequent characteristic of religious men who have a very strong sense of their personal call from God. Azad was ultimately saved from the tragedy of pushing his personal ambitions to their logical conclusion by the fact that he took the supremacy of God even more seriously than he took himself. At this stage, with fading hope in the reforrn of the ulama, he thought increasingly of leadership for himself. Yet all such thought was tempered by his conviction that Islam was democratic in nature. His real difficulty was that he did not know, at least during the al-Hila/ period, how to work with his fellow men. (3) The Attainment ofFreedom: Another obvious corollary to the high status of Muslims in Azad' s scheme of things is that they cannot be under the rule of others. Submission must be to God alone. This theme inspired Azad to some of his most fiery passages that produced a dramatic effect on his readers. For example, an editorial entitled 'No Rule but that of God' (lnna al-hukm illa li'llah) enlarged upon the Quranic verses where this phrase is found. 66 He paraphrases them thus: What is this day of the kingdom of God? That day in which no one can do anything for another, and only God will rule that day

(Q 82: 17, 19).67 In language which seems to echo the New Testament in its reference to 'the kingdom of God', which is not ordinarily used in to this chapter. In evaluating this criticism, it must be remembered that Sulaiman Nadwi was a man of far less stature than Azad. Although it was Sulaiman who proved faithful to Shibli and his interests, Shibli did not treat him with the same respect he showed for-Azad. Daryabadi, in his introduction to ibid., comments that Azad's inviting S\tlaiman's criticisms shows a nobility of character, which is seen to even greater advantage in the way he responded to them (p. 8); cf. Makatib-e-Shibli, 1, p. 278. 66 Actually the phrase occurs word for word elsewhere in the Quran than the verses cited below. The phrase (Q 6: 57; 12: 40; 12: 64) is translated by Pickthall as: 'The decision rests with Allah only.,. 61 Pickthall translates (Q 82: 17, 19) as follows: 'What will convey unto thee what the Day of Judgement is! A day on which no soul bath power at all for any (other) soul. The (absolute} command on that day is Allah's.'


Abul Kalam Azad



Muslim terminology, Azad appli'es the verses eloquently to shame Muslims for their subservience to their imperialist rulers:




We have disregarded the lordship of the King of heaven and earth and have take11 as our . Lord the rulers of a few islands of the sea. In the whole day we never once take the name of God in fear and awe, but hundreds of times we tremble and quiver at the very thought of our non-Muslim rulers .•.. Before the day of the kingdom of God comes, is it not better that we prepare ourselves, lest when His holy day comes, He cast us out saying, 'You forgot the dominion of God before the dominion of outsiders. Depart! In the kingdom of God also you shall be completely forgotten.' . .

The implication, made even clearer by further Quranic quotatio11s in the article, is that the terrors of hell will await those who acquiesce in British rule over Muslims in India. 68 For this reason, Azad attacked the Muslim League and its leacJers in its early years. Instead of joining the freedom struggle, he said, they are satisfied with favours from the British. By diverting Muslim.attention to the League, the British could say that the Congress did not represent the whole of India. The Muslim League had fallen into the trap. Scornfully, Azad asked them: 'When,you can be bought off with brass, why should the government offer you gold ?'69 Of course, Azad could not say too crudely, in the pages of al-Hilal, 'Muslims, arise and throw off the British yoke!' But Muslim readers could not mistake the message contained in his bitter rebuke of loyalists and his portrayal of the true glories of the Muslim people. The Muslims' need for freedom, like the existence of God, was axiomatic; it needed no argument. The difficult questio11, then, concerned the method of attaining this freedom. Was it to be won through constitutional processes, ot by force? Through peace, or war? Azad's ideas concerning practical policy varied. At first, in al-Hila,/, he rejected violent rebellion; later, his call for jihad became increasingly strident. His wartime internment gave him second thoughts, but after his


! Al-Hila/5 (t): 7; cf. ibid. 2 (25) : 444-5. 69 Ibid. 1 (8): 8.





al-Hilal and Khilafat


release in 1920, he seems to have toyed again with the idea of violence. Finally, he settled for non-violence, but only as a policy, not as a principle. On this, he invariably made his disagreement with Gandhi clear. As a principle, non-violence might be desirable, but it could not be absolute; occasion might demand war. 70 In the early numbers of al-Hila/, Azad was anxious to avoid any association of his planned movement with the violence of the Hindu revolutionaries in Bengal, with whom he may earlier have associated. It was politic for him to stress the legitimate freedom and parliamentary government to which Muslims aspired. He made the point that they could strive for the progress and freedom of tl1e country in accordance with religious principles. In addition, he noted that the British government had' doubtless given t}tem peace and freedom to fulfil their religious duties. Thus, Muslims should not countenance rebellion, but seek to do away with it. The government, in its turn, should recognize that Muslims are peace-loving: 'If we are true Muslims, the Quran will be in our hand. The hand that holds the Quran cannot hold a bomb or revolver. ' 71 In another article, he argued that there is no greater opponent of rebellion and disorder than Islam. If Hindu extremists act rebelliously, it is the duty of Muslims, not for the sake of the government, but for the sake of bringing peace on God's earth, to try to counter them. Although Islam is against exploitation and compulsion of all kinds, and establishes_God-given human freedom, it wants its followers to strive for freedom in a legitimate manner. Islam is synonymous, he maintained, with the spirit of de1nocracy and equality, and it cannot consider any government which is not parliamentary and constitutional as in accordance with God's will. 72 Azad shows himself well aware of the. evil of war and is discerning in his analysis of its basic cause. He disagress with the opinion of Napoleon that the cause of war is the lack of 1ozik r, p. 272. 71 Al-Hila/ t (9): 4-8. 72

Ibid. 1 (8): 9.


Abu/ Kalam Azad

civilization in mankind. Azad identifies self-interest as the cause, and finds it in nations, families, and individuals. Writing on the 'true principle of forgiveness and vengeance', he quotes many Quranic verses to show that there is a general command to peace, but that circumstances may demand war: 'However attractive may be the ideas of peace and nonviolence, in the unfortunate realities of the world as it is now, real power is the . power of the sword.' Having established this as the position of realism, he permits himself to use language very different from 'the hand thit holds the Quran cannot hold a bomb or revolver', when he judges that the occasion calls for it: Blessed is the hand that waves the white flag of peace. But only he will stay alive who grips the handle of the bloody sword. This is the source of the life of nations, the means of establishing justice and equity, the protection from human bestiality, and the only shield of defense in the hand of the oppressed. 73

In the context of the means to attain freedom, one must consider Azad's treatment of the whole question of jihad, which he regarded as synonymous with enjoining the good (amr bi'l ma'ruf), and thus a keynote of al-Hila/. He wrote about jihad in various contexts and did not, of course, simply equate it with fighting the British. In fact, he scorned any such idea as something which many Muslims had picked up from Europeans. But he unquestionably used the theme of jihad to arouse Muslim passions. In the first place, he insisted that jihad was a fundamental duty of Muslims. Like enjoining the good, it epitomjzed the call of al-Hila/ to an Islam relevant to all of life. Hence he could say that 'every action or experience for the sake o( Islam is jihad fi sabil Allah (struggle in the way of ·God).' Without jihad there would be no Islam. It is a command as binding as the command to perfor111 the obligatory worship five times a day, or to give witness to belief in God and His P·rophet. 74 73

Ibid. 1 (7): 8-9; (17): 20; 2 (12): 193. 74 Ibid. 1 (17): 2;·2 (3): 37.

al-Hilal and Khilafat


In addition to this more general use of jihad as any f0101 of struggle for the sake of Islam, he writes of jihad as being of three types: (1) jihad of property: the giving of goods; (2) jihad of the voice: verbal proclamation; and (3) jihad of soul and life: which includes war and killing. This inclusion of war and killing as one kind of jihad within a broader context made Azad's message very effective. This was not just a revival of the call to jihad against the Sikhs and the British of the nineteenth-century Mujahidin. 'The idea which puts terror jn the hearts of Europeans that Muslims murder all non-Muslims' is wrong, he wrote. No doubt, he added with bitter irony, Christians wage this kind of war, as the Italians did in Tripoli. But jihad, in the sense of armed struggle, can only be used against those who oppose Muslims, as the Quran says: Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes .... (Q 60: 9).

This is all so reasonable and so balanced that the British government could scarcely take offense. 75 On the other ha11d, Azad is far from making jihad entirely spiritual, as did Sir Sayyid and the Ahmadiyas, for example. By talking of ar1ned conflict as one possible means of struggle, and at the same time portraying in vivid language the hostility of Christianity against Islam in the wars in Europe, he made it easy for his readers to draw the conclusion that they should be ready to fight against the British. Al-Hila/ presented as examples for e111ulation the bravery of Muslim soldiers on the battlefields during the Tripolitan war of 1912. In his speech in which Azad had warned of the need to 'grip the handle of the bloody sword', he had worked up to a final call to jihad: 'Are you afraid to hear what I am not afraid to speak?' he had asked. It was this courageous call that drew the admiration of ulama like Mahmudul Hasan and Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi. Azad was thus not idly boasting when he claimed that he had brought the word jihad back into the Muslims' vocabulary. 75

Ibid. t (17): 2; (18): 5-7; cf. 2 (3): 37.


Abul Kalam Azad

He had done this in a way that was essentially emotional, but with an adroit theological ·underpinning, and all in the context of preparedness for obtaining freedom. 76 (4) Muslims as Rulers: Enjoining the good as the obligation of all Muslims, democracy as the political structure of the Muslim community within which leadership must functior,, and freedom from non-Muslim rule as the object to be attained by jihad-, these were clear political emphases in al-Hila/. All of these imply ~_.; something else, which Azad assumed but did not elaborate. Once ~ \ ~- freedom had been won, what was to be the position of the ~ Muslims of India? The simple answer of al-Hila/ was that they ~ 1"{),.t must be rulers. When giving his views on jihad, Azad wrote ,Jt .. ~ that: 'The Quranic idea of life in this world is of Muslims as 0 ~\, .i' -:\'\. rulers', and of this rule: 'It is not a kingdom like the kingdom of i-'" -- ~ ~(+i ✓


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